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Oops, we moved the Project: Gorgon dev blog a few months back, and forgot to update this one!

The Project: Gorgon dev blog has moved to here: https://forum.projectgorgon.com/blog.php

 

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[Edit: Citan has usually done these blog posts, but today we have a different author: srand.]

We have a lot of new people trying out Project: Gorgon these days, getting involved with the game and the community, reporting bugs and giving us feedback.

That is amazing and wonderful! We love you, and we are very glad you are here.

But PG isn’t quite the sort of game you may be used to - and I’m not just talking about Rita and Blanche here. We are a weird little team building a weird little game in the best way we know how, but it’s ... did I say weird already? Let’s go with ‘different’... and that can lead to some confusion for new testers.

So, just to make sure we are all on the same page, I wanted to give you all some more context.

 

“Alpha”

First, let’s talk about alpha. PG is in an alpha stage of development because we are still very actively writing and re-writing the underlying game systems. Big, big changes!

But in some ways, PG is far ahead of a normal alpha game. Alpha for many MMOs involves ‘Friends & Family’ only. It can mean that the server is only up on weekends for organized stress tests. It usually means a lot of client and server crashes. It may involve character wipes on a regular basis.

PG, on the other hand, is open to the public. The server is up 24/7 and relatively stable. We do have client crashes, of course, but relatively few for an alpha. And we are definitely not wiping characters.

So are we just calling it alpha? Is it really a beta in disguise, just to make us look better? And honestly, that confusion is natural.

But we call this stage of development alpha for very specific reasons. Here’s how we see things:

Alpha: Major, major things can change. All your equipment may go Legacy and need to be replaced. Skills may be merged; skills may be split up into multiple parts; skills may even be abandoned if they aren’t any fun.

Content is patchy - too many dungeons in one place, not enough in another, and big spaces with not a lot to do yet. Some skills and quests are really just tech prototypes and don’t make a lot of sense yet.

And even though we ask you to report any bugs you see - and goodness knows there are enough of them! - we can’t fix them all right now. We concentrate on the bugs that are most pertinent to what we’re currently developing, and bugs that are especially disruptive or confusing.

Beta: The bones of the gameplay - things like combat, advancement , and favor - are in place and settled. We’re adding more content: more races, more dungeons, more NPCs, more curses, more skills (because PG will always have more skills). Existing content is also being fleshed out and fixed. Placeholder NPCs get personalities; dungeons get more levels, more bosses, and more puzzles.

We’re fixing bugs large and small, and adding polish left and right.

Release: Now the game has solid bones and a good layer of flesh, so to speak. Now it’s a matter of expanding on that, growing the world, and moving the storyline along.

 

We Need You!

But we’re not there yet - obviously! We’re still in alpha. And that means that a lot of really annoying bugs and polish problems aren’t being addressed yet. Worse, it means the broken mod on your sword isn’t getting fixed for weeks, and what are you supposed to do in the meantime? So should you even bother reporting bugs?

Yes. Yes, report the bugs. Yes, report *all* the bugs.

Even if we know about it, we can get valuable information from your report. (This is one of the reasons an in-game report is important - it has info about your character attached.)

Even more importantly, knowing how many people are being affected lets us prioritize the bugs and make the most of our development time. Prioritizing our development time is incredibly important right now - so any help you can give us with that is invaluable!

And please, report bugs through the in-game bug report form. Feedback and suggestions can go on the forums, especially if you’d like feedback on your feedback from other players. But it is very important to report the bugs in-game. That’s how we track them and make sure they get fixed.

You are our QA team. You test; you report; we fix - and if we say it’s fixed and it’s not, you should re-report it! We make mistakes and we rely on you to catch them.

And that is ultimately the deal we have with you: We keep the alpha server up, we don’t wipe your characters, and you tell us what’s wrong so we can eventually fix it.

 

A Personal Note

It’s pretty common knowledge that we are a minuscule team, but I think that doesn’t sink in sometimes. Silvonis and I do our respective things, and we have contractors helping with code, graphics, and music ... but ultimately right now, the bulk of the game system design and coding comes down to Citan.

When we launch to acclaim and success - and I have every confidence that we will - we will of course hire more people. But where we are now, we are a lean, mean, development machine. And if we weren’t - if we had started this project with a larger team - we would never have made it this far.

So keep that in mind, if you would. When you are frustrated with a bug, fuming over a bad design choice, pounding out angry feedback - we get it. We are so, so grateful that you are helping us make this game better. But we’re still just a tiny team, and it’s going to take some time.

 

TL;DR:

We’re in alpha, which means we’re working on the bones of the game. There are a lot of bugs that aren’t getting fixed yet - but we need to know about *all* the bugs so we can prioritize our development time.

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We’re still working full steam ahead on the next update! The last dev blog gave you some hints of what’s coming, so this time I’m going to answer some questions you asked over the past few weeks. I can also give you the latest timeline I have... which is, unfortunately, extremely tentative. But that's alpha for you!

 

Battle Chemistry

Battle Chemistry was due for a major revamp, and... well, a major revamp isn't actually happening any time soon, if ever. My experiments didn't pan out satisfactorily.

See, the big "problem" with Battle Chemistry is that it's too broad in scope, and thus too powerful. Huge burst AoEs, potent buffs, and powerful restoration? There's way too much good stuff there. But in my experiments, splitting off some of its parts hasn't resulted in a fun skill.

After the second unsatisfactory experiment, I got to thinking: maybe this will all work itself out. The thing I keep forgetting is that Battle Chemistry is an advanced skill. As the testing NPC explains, you'll need level 50 Alchemy just to learn it! It's not a newbie-available skill.

With that in mind, I'll need to compare it to other high-level skills. (For example, most weapon skills will have several specializations at high level that offer more breadth, perhaps equivalent to the broad scope of Battle Chemistry.) When compared to other high level options, it might not be so overpowered, and it might not need any major changes. So rather than hack at it now and then potentially have to revamp it again in the future, I'm going to wait and see.

So, bottom line: no dramatic skill changes planned for Battle Chemistry. I've begun adding missing treasure effects, buffed some subpar mutations, and added other missing functionality to the skill, including a new Basic Attack. Players will be able to raise it to 70 in the next update.

However! I'm also going to take the training NPC out of Serbule. He'll move to Rahu and will require level 50 Alchemy, as he has always said he would. This will help to better reinforce that this is not a skill for newbies!

If you have Battle Chemistry already, but you don't have Alchemy at 50 yet, you will still be able to use Battle Chemistry, but you won't be able to raise it to 60+ until you do. So... best get on that, I guess!

 

Raising Other Skills Past 50

In addition to the combat skills, some non-combat skills can be raised past 50 in the next update. Others will come in time. I've already bit off way more than could easily fit into a single two-week snapshot - which is why this is now a four-week ‘snapshot’ - so I don't want to wait until every single skill is ready. But the ones with side-bar abilities, like First Aid and Mycology, are already ready to go in the next update. Some of the crafting-oriented skills will be raisable, too.

 

Test Server

A while back, we had a separate ‘test’ server where we could test out the more extensive code changes before introducing them to the real server. (Project: Gorgon may be in alpha still, but we try very hard not to put your characters in danger of getting seriously screwed up!)

But the test server requires a lot of logistics work, so we haven’t been using it for updates that don’t require it. There's a lot of stuff in this next update, but it’s not really anything TOO crazy in terms of new code features, so I don't think the test server would be worth it for the next update.

However, when we get the new GUI ready to go, tentatively in late February, we will put that up on the test server... so you can help us find any major bugs in the new GUI before we inflict it on the general populace of testers.

 

Where Are The Fairies?

As I mentioned in the December 22 note, I've postponed fairies and the fae realm until after Gazluk. The art assets weren't ready yet, and I still have some logistics of flying to work out. I'm not sure when fairies will be back on the radar, but it won't be too terribly far off. A few months.

(Oh, and just for reference: ‘Fairy’ refers to a specific race of people, the ones who will (eventually) be playable. ‘Fae’ refers to anything from the fae realm, including fairies.)

 

Steam Timeline

I'm still tentatively aiming for a Steam early access launch in late February/early March. But the new GUI is getting closer to being ready, and I'm starting to think it'd be really wise for that to be done BEFORE it appeared on Steam. It will probably take a while to iron out the kinks in the new GUI, and it seems silly to foist a buggy GUI on a new customer base...

Anyway, without getting into too many details, there are lots of logistics involved... so I'm not really sure when exactly it'll be on Steam. But instead of it being a far off "soon-ish", it's a much closer "soon".

 

Other Stuff

I also wanted to respond to some questions that I didn't get a chance to answer on the old forums before they closed.

Making animal curse-forms permanent if you stay in the form for a long time: This was actually close to my original idea. But after getting feedback from animal players, I've abandoned that plan. I like having some permanent "hard choices" in the game, but I don't think most of the animal forms would benefit from that. There will be various small pressures to stay in animal form -- like being able to make better milk the longer you stay in cow form -- but nothing that forces you to stay in those forms forever. (Except, of course, that lycanthropy is never curable.)

More animal-handling animals to tame: There will definitely be more tamable creatures! But they're on hold until I'm happy with more of the basics. I think the three animal families (cats, rats, bears) are enough for alpha. They give you the idea of how it will work for future animal families.

Grouped troops: I mentioned in a recent blog post that having monsters wander around is expensive, in terms of server CPU. Someone asked if having monsters walk in a group would be more efficient, and it would... if they were coded that way. Right now, monsters don't have enough AI features to be able to follow another monster. But that's something I'd like to have eventually, so I can have wandering packs of monsters. (I fake it sometimes already, by having several monsters that happen to wander to the same spot, but it's not efficient.)

Other new skills: There will be many more crafting and interaction skills in future updates!  And yes, brewing is one of them. Of COURSE there will be a brewing skill. So you can stop sending in that suggestion!

 

So When’s the Update?

The next update is tentatively planned for Wednesday, but you know how this stuff goes: these are my optimistic timelines, and delays happen a lot. I'm working REALLY hard to get it all set, but it could take a few more days. But I really, REALLY expect it'll be up by this weekend at the latest...

... Because I am so tired! Seriously, I need a week off after this huge update. We worked through the holidays on this one, so I'm gonna take a short "winter break" after this launches. It's been pretty much nonstop work for a month as I level up all these skills, monsters, and so on. The basic Gazluk area is finally almost ready... I just gotta finish up about a million loose ends, and then I can rest... rest…

 Edit: actually, I think I'm going to go ahead and set the date for late Friday. I want the extra time to polish things up.

 

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I've decided that it's time for Gazluk to be launched! So we've been pushing hard to get all the details ironed out. It will take another week and a half, I think, and then version 1 of Gazluk will be ready for testing.

Gazluk Plateau: Home of the Orcs

Let me give you some background info on the area so that we can talk about the details. This contains a few small spoilers, but nothing you wouldn't be able to figure out pretty quickly.

The Gazluk Plateau is a very cold and isolated place. Although it's well within the boundaries of The Council Lands, the orcs of Gazluk have claimed it as their own kingdom, and the mages of the Council are much too busy to care about it right now. The orcs are taking this opportunity to amass a mighty army and try to expand their territory, but infighting and sabotage seem to be keeping them from gaining any ground. But within Gazluk, they are the undisputed rulers. The main orcish city there, unsurprisingly named Gazluk City, was built around an old keep. After the Sand War, the orcs retreated here and refortified it with state-of-the-art defenses. It's not a place that welcomes visitors. (It's said that the city proper is but a tiny portion of Gazluk City, while the rest is underground, but that might just be a rumor.) Not all orcs are on the same side, however, and various warring factions and splinter groups have outposts throughout the area. The tiny number of non-orcs live in caves or hidden enclaves, out of the way of the orcs.

So that's Gazluk in a nutshell. The playable orc race will eventually start here, and a small portion of the land area is reserved for newbie monsters (it'll just be empty space for now). Aside from the newbie areas, the rest of Gazluk is for levels 60-70, with a few monsters and encounters placed a bit higher.

Because of our iterative snapshot development model, the first release of Gazluk won't have a ton of content. But it will have more content than other new areas have had, because I've learned that it's very helpful to have some dungeons and basic landscape fixtures installed early on. That way, when I have a few hours and want to add some more quests at the end of a work day, I have a solid foundation to work from. Building on a solid foundation is much easier than trying to install that foundation later: we released the first version of Rahu a year ago, and the massive sewer system underneath that city hasn't materialized yet, because it'll take a concerted push to get it set up. Adding to it and embellishing it are easy once it's there, though.

So for Gazluk, I've pre-loaded it with some caves to explore. ("Some caves" might be a bit of an understatement... I got a bit carried away.) There's also a group-dungeon to explore, which I think will be ready in time -- if not, it'll come in the update after this one. There are also... well, without spoilers, let's just say there are other things to discover. Not a ton at first, but hopefully enough to make it worth the effort to explore.

I realize that there are lots of areas of the game right now where more content is needed. The Rahu sewer is one such area -- it can be hard to level up to 60 right now. So why did I jump to Gazluk? Because it's an important test. I'll need to raise the level cap 4 more times before the game launches in a year... that's very ambitious! Gazluk will give me a lot of insight into where the bottlenecks are, what works, and what sucks.

But we intend to retrofit older areas soon, too -- a large newbie cave dungeon is still in the works, as is that Rahu sewer.

 

Level 70 Cap

As if that wasn't enough work to do, I also need to raise the level cap to 70! This involves a whole lot of data entry, but it's coming along. Not all skills may be ready to go to 70 in the next update, but most of them will be.

I had originally talked about having you seek out a different NPC trainer every ten levels, so for level 60 you seek out an NPC in Rahu, at 70 you'd go to another new city, at 80 another, and so on. I started making the NPCs for level 70 and realized this was too much. It's just... well, it's too grindy, for one thing, and the NPCs just don't feel that important. I like the NPCs in the game to be relevant for a longer time period. So I'm reusing the level 60 NPCs for level 70. They'll sell the skill-cap-unlocks for both 60 and 70, and sell abilities up to about 72-ish. I've done a few NPCs using this setup, and I like it much better.

The level 80 and level 90 skill-caps will be in a different city, Statehelm, the "jewel of the Council". And I'm thinking I might stick a special skill-specific quest in around that point too. (Either for level 90 or level 100, one or the other.) These quests won't necessarily be epic in scope, but will be a bit more involved than a favor-quest, too. But I guess I'm getting way ahead of myself: right now, we're focusing on level 70!

In addition to new levels of abilities, the treasure system is also being upgraded to be able to drop level 65 and 70 loot. This part is a TON of data-entry work, so I'm not sure how complete it will be in the next update, but I'll do what I can. I also plan to add new treasure mods that only drop at high level, but I won't have time to do that right now: just extending the existing mods up to 70 takes a lot of time. But it will happen.

The tricky part here is that I don't quite know how powerful these new mods should be. If I kept scaling the mods linearly, they would balance fine, but that's too boring for my taste. I mean, if a level 60 weapon is "almost as good" as a level 70 weapon, then keeping up with gear isn't really that important, or that exciting. So I've raised the numbers a good bit higher for the 61-80 level range. Probably too much, in fact. It'll take some iterations to find the right spot, so expect some ups and downs over the next few months. But the goal will remain the same: loot needs to be fun, exciting, and interesting. A tall order, but we're on the right track.

 

New Forum!

We're just about ready to switch over to a new forum software. You can create an account there now at forum.projectgorgon.com . We'll do the discussion thread for this news-post on the old forum, but future ones will be over there. (The old forums will become read-only soon.)

Thanks to everyone that backed our Indiegogo campaign! We've got a lot of fun stuff coming, so stick around.

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It's gift-giving time in Alharth! If you've reached at least Friends favor-level with NPCs, they'll have a present for you. No rush if your holiday is busy, though: they'll be giving gifts through at least the first week of January. We'll also have some other small celebrations starting in a couple of days.

 

Holidays in a Fantasy World

You know, presenting holiday events in this MMO is a bit tricky. The reason has to do with the game's atmosphere. WoW has things a bit easier: in WoW, nobody bats an eye at mecha-santa-claus killing robo-Rudolph because the game has always been full of fourth-wall-breaking stuff, mostly in the form of cultural reference jokes. That's not really the vibe Project: Gorgon goes for. It’s a fine vibe -- it’s just not our vibe.

This is probably a surprise to many people, but there are very few outside references in Project: Gorgon. (Most of the ones people think are references are just accidental. For instance, I've heard people say that exploding sheep are a reference to Worms... nope, I never played it. Just a coincidence.) Don't get me wrong, Alharth is a silly place, but I try hard to give it its own internal logic.

Every player is different, and for some, outside references are much less distracting than really weird NPCs or unlikely item names. But since it's a game I want to personally enjoy, I use myself as the yardstick here. I find cultural references to be really jarring to my immersion, so I don't make them very often. As a gamer, I can handle bad graphics, unlikely NPCs, improbable classes, and complicated GUIs... but I don't like having the fourth wall broken unless it's for a good reason. Making a joke in a quest title isn't a good enough reason for me.

But pop culture references are one thing, and holiday events are another! I don't want to close the door on holiday events. I mean, do I want to let players have candy cane sword fights and kill giant snowmen? Of course I do, at least for a few weeks each year. (Eventually... not this year!) And would that stuff have solid grounding in the game lore? Not really. There's a few in-world holidays that are similar, but none involving Christmas trees, for instance...

So I expect that holidays will be the exceptions to the "no outside references" rule of thumb. I still want to try to minimize the immersion-breaking elements: the NPCs are giving gifts because it's their custom at end of the year, not because of Christmas. But I'm also going to turn on a couple of Christmas trees in a few days -- since it'll only be a short while, and small in scope, it's no big deal. The NPCs probably won't even notice.

 

Upcoming Content

We've been pushing on lots of different pieces of content recently, slowly bringing them closer to being launched. But because of our slow art acquisition process, it's hard to predict exactly when things will be ready. Up until recently I expected the fairy race and the fae realm to be the next big content addition, but now it looks like that honor goes to the Gazluk Plateau. In addition to being a level 70 area for all races, Gazluk will also be the starting zone for player-character orcs. But we'll be rolling out the playable orc race separately from Gazluk itself, because Gazluk is a very large place and it will need its own time in the spotlight gathering feedback.

Gazluk is a big, big place. It's the largest map we've done so far, a bit more than twice as big as Serbule. It's hard to convey the size of the place, but here's a screenshot of a small area in front of the orcish city, taken from within the Unity editor.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_gazluk.png

 

If you click to enlarge, there's three cows in this screenshot for scale, but the third one is only like three pixels in size. You can kind of see the huge walls of the orcish city near the center of the picture, and the third cow is in the snow a bit below that. It's a desolate, cold place, but there are also lots of secrets to find, orc camps to raid, and monster lairs to delve in.

This map is important because it will push our technical abilities forward. This place is so large that even if a hundred players were in Gazluk, they could all be out of sight of each other. In other maps, monsters spawn and go about their lives without any concern about how many players are in the area. In Eltibule alone, there's about 400 monsters wandering around at any given moment. Gazluk will need several times more monsters. The number of monsters isn't actually the major cause of strain on the server, though. The big strain comes when a thousand monsters all want to wander around at once! Navigating that many creatures in that big of a space causes our physics sub-servers to get overloaded. (This is a problem we sometimes see in other areas, too, like Kur Mountains, where monsters will just pause for a while, unable to path.) We need to get smarter with which monsters are allowed agency. Monsters that are literally miles away from any player don't need to move around: nobody cares! So we'll be adding basic optimizations in that vein, and back-porting them to other areas when they seem stable.

We also have new skills (most prominently, the bard), new dungeons (large and small), revisions of the loot mods for animal forms, Battle Chemistry changes, and more NPCs in the works. So I expect the next few months will see a lot of new content! Buggy, imbalanced, content, mind you -- but with your help and feedback, we'll iron out the kinks and make each of these things a fun addition to the game.

A major rewrite of the GUI is also in the works. We've recently locked down most of the theming and style elements, and things are progressing pretty well. I estimate another 2-3 months of work before it can go live. Rewriting the GUI is a pretty stressful proposition, and despite a whole lot of in-house testing, I'm sure we'll end up with a HUGE number of bugs at first, but we'll come out the other side with a great modern user interface with a decent number of customizations and frills.

I'll talk to you again soon, hopefully with some more screenshots!

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I missed the dev blog last week, but the patch notes give a pretty good idea of what we were working on! Well, actually, the patch notes don't really go into much detail about the server-side improvements.

While it's definitely not the right time to do major optimization work (not during alpha!), the server's performance had gotten pretty bad. During the Kickstarter, way back when, we had over 200 players online and the server was completely fine -- without any optimizations it could easily have handled 500-ish, and with optimizations we expect to handle 1000 concurrent users. (Of course, when there's 80+ people standing in town, client framerate gets pretty bad, but that's client-side performance, not server-side. Client-side means it's just affecting you; server-side means it's affecting everybody, so it's a higher priority.)

But that was more than a year ago, and server performance has slowly declined as new features were added. Little performance bugs had accumulated to the point that even clicking on an NPC often didn't work for 5+ seconds. So I fixed a lot of those bugs in the previous update, and some more will be fixed in the next update. That should return us to the old server performance levels -- probably better, actually. I also fixed some monster pathing problems in Kur Mountains (which is the area with the most complicated pathing at the moment), and we'll monitor the area to see how it's doing now.

 

On to the new dev blog! This week I've been working on the Gazluk Plateau, a new higher-level content area. But before I get too far into that, I need to step go back to Kur Mountains and redo how the cold environment works, because Gazluk is just as cold as Kur, if not colder. The cold system needs to work better before I add it to more areas.

Currently in the game, when you're in Kur Mountains, you take damage every second that you're outdoors. If you're below a certain health threshold for too long, you have a chance to catch frostbite or hypothermia. The point of this system is to make Kur a dangerous frozen hellscape that you have to work to overcome. You do that by getting gear and items and abilities that boost your Indirect Cold Mitigation. This reduces, point-for-point, the amount of damage that you take per second. While your indirect cold mitigation is low, you have to struggle to survive in Kur, moving from safe spot to safe spot (the fire places), figuring out how to survive. But, ideally, you eventually become powerful enough that it's only a minor inconvenience.

This cold-weather system worked much better when I first made Kur! But since then, most of the numbers in the game have changed. The biggest culprit is that food is now super regenerative -- it has been for a while, and just recently it was made even MORE regenerative, to the point that even newbie food can easily outpace the damage from Kur's weather. As a stop-gap a while back, I made Kur's ambient damage apply even during combat (because that's the only time that food doesn't mega-heal you, so that's the only time you might succumb to cold), and I raised the ratios of when you get frostbite, etc., so that there's some reason to keep track of the safe spots that can warm you up. But it's not a very good game mechanic anymore. Now you can ONLY die from cold during combat, which is exactly the time when you need to be paying attention to other things. Namely, combat.

I can't fix the current system -- changing the damage numbers doesn't work... unless I wanted to nerf food, which I don't. If it were less important, I'd toss the whole idea of cold-weather out, but environmental hazards are really important! They just need to work better. Why are they important? Because this is a game where you explore and overcome obstacles, and the environment needs to provide some of those big obstacles. But environmental obstacles need to be intuitive, predictable, and manageable with proper preparation.

So I've thrown out the old system entirely. Here's the new system: when you're in Kur, an additional bar will be shown along the top of the screen labeled "Body Heat". While you've got some body heat left in the meter, you're fine. No ill effects from the cold at all. Your body heat drops over time, and when it reaches zero, you get frostbite. And if you stay at zero for too long, you get hypothermia, which is almost certainly fatal unless you get indoors fast.

Your Indirect Cold Mitigation will still play a key role -- it'll affect how quickly you lose body heat. Cold-weather gear like fur parkas will boost your indirect cold mitigation, and they may also boost your maximum body-heat, so you can travel for longer. And some items and abilities will have a chance to boost your body heat, too. Breathing fire seems like it should have a chance of giving you back a point or two... and Ice Magic would likely have some tools to survive in the cold...

I hope that this system will be more intuitive than the old system, because "don't let your bar get empty or you die" is easier to understand than "you take lots of cold damage all the time, but when you're out of combat your food recovers the energy, so it's only when you're in combat that it's dangerous, and if you go below 50% health during combat you might get hypothermia". There's still a random element: the rate of heat loss is not constant, it happens randomly based on your cold mitigation. In colder areas it drops faster than others. (For instance, being submerged in Kur's ocean is much colder than being on land.) But I think the extra GUI bar makes it all a lot more understandable.

I'm still refining it and trying new things, but I wanted to give you an idea of where it's headed. To reiterate, though, my goal is NOT for Kur to be a huge pain in the ass all the time. The goal is for Kur to be a predictably dangerous environment that you have to take precautions for. At low level it's very dangerous, but at high level you only need moderate precautions.

And by the way, I've also added a little bar for the "Hydration" system used in deserts. For a long time I was trying to avoid adding new GUI elements to the current user interface, since it'll all have to be rewritten in the new interface. But adding another bar really doesn't take a lot of time... so that was kind of pointless. (Ilmari's environmental effects don't work very well at the moment, either, but that's a topic for another blog post!)

 

The other thing on my radar this week has been the revision of Battle Chemistry. I'm still pretty early in that, but the basic plan is to remove the golem and enhance the explodey bits, the mutagens, and the healing powers. I have some ideas for new abilities that will make the skill pretty interesting... well, I don't know how well these ideas will work yet, but I'll find out, and will have more to say about it next week. The current battle-chemistry golem will be moving off to a new skill, tentatively named Engineering.

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This week's blog post ended up being a general-purpose article about MMO design. I'm working on revising the Shield skill's mods today, and I figured it might be interesting to talk about how a game designer does something like this.

 

Making The Model

Balancing an MMO isn't a science. It can't be. This is surprising to many gamers because they think that it should be possible to perfectly balance a game. It's just a simulation, right? Just figure it out! With math! But an MMO is much too complex for that.

Here’s an example I liked to use from Asheron's Call 2. (I've probably got the details wrong -- it's been a decade -- but you'll get the idea.) An archer could stand on the bank of a river and shoot a monster on the other side of a river. That was a good strategy because monsters moved a bit slower when they had to cross water -- they had to transition animations from standing to swimming, then back, which slowed them down by a second or two. As the monster got out of the water to attack, the archer could run backwards, still shooting, forcing the monster to chase it, all the while using obstacles like trees and bushes to confound the monster. But there was a catch: arrows in AC2 had physics, so if you didn't have a clean shot, your arrow would miss and hit a tree. Being an archer required a little bit of real skill, and situational awareness, and a tiny bit of planning.

So... how do you represent that situation with formulas? Well, you start with some observations to make a simpler model, something that approximates the bigger factors, and then you iterate. In other words, you make something up. MMOs are complex 3D spaces with obstacles and surprises. But even if it were a 2D game you would have similar problems. In fact, unless the game is turn-based (and pretty simple!), it's never possible to model everything. You have to abstract away most of the complexity -- leaving the right parts, and in the right structure, to get down to something you can deal with.

In the example above, we might say, "An archer tends to have time to make three attacks before a melee-only monster can reach them." That’s a guess we'd make after play-testing for a while. So we'd make a formula around this idea. Depending on our goals, we might give the monster a certain amount of extra health to compensate. Or we might make other kinds of monsters that archers have a much harder time with, or a million other things. But it's all based on that earlier simplification. In other words, it's all just bullshit formulas that we make up. Then we test them, see how they work, and repeat.

But ... how do designers actually do it? Spreadsheets. Lots and lots of spreadsheets. The spreadsheets are exported to custom tools, and those tools generate the data that the game server and client use.

(An aside here: I've been on development teams where the systems designers were expected to use fancy graphical tools that the tools engineers built just for them, for that game, to enter damage and health and so on. These tools are always worse than spreadsheets. Spreadsheets have had decades of development and they're really good at formulas. I sincerely suggest that MMO teams never waste time on graphical data-entry tools. Tools for object placement? Pathing? Appearances? Those tools are very helpful. But if something can be done in a spreadsheet, find a way to do it in a spreadsheet! As a bonus, training time is reduced because all professional systems designers already know how to use Excel. In fact, we've always known how to use Excel since birth. It's in our DNA.)

It takes a lot of these bullshit formulas to model combat. For instance, here are just a few of the balancing formulas for the Unarmed skill:

  • Regaining 1 point of Armor is as good as dealing 2 damage
  • Regaining 1 point of Health is as good as dealing 3 damage
  • Regaining 1 point of Power is as good as dealing 5 damage
  • Dealing 150 damage over a 10-second time period is as good as dealing 100 damage immediately
  • Taunting +15 is as good as dealing 1 extra damage

With a whole bunch of these formulas, I can then "balance" the abilities and mods. If one mod deals +50 damage, another might restore 25 Armor. Balance! Of course, it's not balanced at all -- regaining 1 point of Armor is actually WAY better than dealing 2 extra damage! But since I only expect Unarmed to have a couple of mods that restore Armor, I've artificially inflated the formula so that they're more practical. More fun.

If the Unarmed skill ends up being too powerful, I'll revise some of these formulas as needed. But the first step is to make them fun, and only then do you try to clamp down on overpowered things. Sometimes a fun thing stops being fun after it's balanced. In that case it has to be thrown out. There used to be a mod that let Fire Mages stun with their Super Fireball. This proved impossible to balance. I tried turning it into a combo, but eventually decided the combo wasn't fun either, and ultimately I just threw the mod out. But that's rare. Usually a fun-but-overpowered idea can be watered down to make it fun-but-less-overpowered.

 

Living With The Formulas

Sometimes when a formula changes, it only affects a few things. If I decide tomorrow that Unarmed is regaining too much Armor, I can fix it in a few minutes. No big deal. But some formulas are ingrained into everything. For instance, there are formulas that determine how generally useful a mod should be, based on how many abilities the mod affects, how much Power they cost, and how fast their reset time is. When I change THESE formulas, everything breaks. In the October 31 update, I changed those formulas so that an ability's reset time is less important in determining the power of mods. Changing that formula meant that every single mod needed to be re-calculated. It sucked. But that happens sometimes because these formulas are just educated guesses about what will be fun without being too overpowered.

And sometimes, you just ignore the formulas. Here's a snippet of one spreadsheet (click to make larger):

balance-spreadsheet-example-B.png

 

This shows some of the balancing data for the mod that turns Hip Throw into an AoE attack. See the "Balance Problem!" column? Anything that's over- or under-powered turns red like that. I can either fix it, or write in a reason why I'm leaving it overpowered. (I deleted the "reason" from one of the columns so it would turn red for the screenshot.) I've decided that this particular mod is a "signature mod" for Unarmed, so it doesn't matter what the balance formulas say: it's staying. Every skill has a few of these. Almost all mods that turn a single-target ability into an area-effect ability fall into this category. Some other abilities just do really weird stuff, unique things that are probably not overpowered, but that I don't have any formulas for. In that case, I can either spend the time to make more formulas, or if it's a one-time effect that probably won't show up again, I would just leave it "overpowered" and write in an explanation in the "reason for overpowered" column.

But they can't all be special cases! Most of the mods need to fit into my formulas. This is where I get to be clever and creative. I have a "budget" and it's my job to make the most fun thing I can within that budget. I'm working on revising the Shield skill right now, and one of Shield's mods makes "Take The Lead" restore Health. This is a mediocre mod because Take The Lead is supposed to be used BEFORE combat begins, when you probably don't need healing. So I'm changing it to wait 15 seconds before giving you health. That gives you time to get hurt before the healing happens, and as an added bonus, my formulas say that delayed healing is cheaper than instant healing, so now the mod heals more than it did before. Finding clever ways to fit interesting mods into these formula budgets is a fun part of the job.

But I can't go too crazy because it's easy to break the formulas. For instance, if I made fifteen or twenty different Unarmed mods that all restored Health, Unarmed would be really overpowered. It wouldn't matter that each particular mod is "balanced" by my formulas, because the formulas were made with the idea that there wouldn't be very many healing mods! The formulas are only approximations and simplifications, and a lot of times the "corner cases" (as programmers call them) don't come out right. Basically, I have to avoid certain kinds of extremes.

Systems designers are constantly evolving their balancing model for as long as they have time. And there's never enough time! Each time I iterate, I need to see how it plays out. I'll collect combat metrics over a month or two to see if it seems to be working, if players seem to be using certain abilities, and so on. Then, if there's time, I improve things. I could easily do this as a full-time job and never run out of things to work on. In fact, an MMO could easily have two or three systems designers all working full-time on these spreadsheets, play-testing, studying metrics, and iterating. And they would still be saying "there's not enough time!" Systems designers always say that. It's always true, because the job is never finished.

 

Conclusion

I could ramble about this forever, but my break time is long over and I have to get back to the spreadsheets. I hope this was interesting to people who are interested in game design! Let me answer a few likely follow-up questions:

  • Yes, this is a horribly inaccurate model of the game -- there are tens of thousands of numbers involved, but it's still a super-simplified representation of combat! And yet, it's the best approach available.
  • Yes, this is what most systems designers do throughout the industry. Some designers are better at it than me... some are a LOT better at it than me, actually... but the basic idea is the same in every MMO.
  • Yes, this means no video game will ever really be perfectly balanced. Even games that pride themselves on balance use this sort of model; they just spend more time improving it. In the case of a genre like RTSes, designers might use the trick of letting the AIs play against each other, then deciding that real players should be X% better than an AI, and make formulas from there. But underneath all the techniques we can use, it's still just a bunch of made-up formulas that are found via trial and error.
  • Yes, that's Excel in the screenshot. I prefer LibreOffice because it's free, but none of the free spreadsheet apps can handle the complexity of an MMO's spreadsheets! (Yet.)

Finally, an observation: the MMO with the best at-launch balance I've ever seen was Aion. I played it in 2009 and it was surprisingly well-balanced. I haven't kept up with the game since then, so I have no idea how the balance is now, but at the time, the designers had restricted themselves to only using a few VERY simple ability types. This made it much easier to model the combat balance, which is extra important for PvP. But... well, the combat was pretty boring. (Unless you like PvP a lot more than I do.) That's the trade-off that MMOs always have to make: the more complex and interesting the combat is, the harder it is to balance.

Happy Thanksgiving, and I'll talk to you again next week!

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So ... What’s Next?

We’ve just come through a major combat update that took forever to get to you because of all the interconnected pieces. But really long gaps between updates are pretty rare.

Usually, I prefer to put out "snapshot" builds every couple of weeks. Snapshots tend to have a lot of smaller stuff and not a lot of big-ticket features to get excited about -- but they give me much faster feedback and bug reports. I needed to rest up a bit from the last update, but I'm back at work now, and it's time to go back to faster iterations.

This next update will have a lot of little stuff. But little stuff is important, too! Let's talk about some of it.

 

Newbie Island

Anagoge, a.k.a. the newbie island, is getting some minor tweaks in the next update. We're making it safer for newbies to explore right around the starting area. (No more spawn-camping spiders!) We’ve also added some visual cues to help newbies find the path up to the lighthouse more easily.

There's also some more new newbie-island content in the works, but I'm not sure if that will be in this update or the one after, so I'll postpone talking about that for the moment.

 

Hammer

I haven't been focusing on skill revisions the past couple of weeks -- I needed some time away from those -- but there will be at least one updated skill in the next patch: Hammer.

As with the other revised skills, I've removed treasure effects that were underwhelming and replaced them with new stuff. Since Hammer is all about damage, I resisted the urge to branch out in too many different directions. Instead, there are more ways to synergize damage and more strategies for maximizing DPS.

Hammer has a unique stun-like effect called Knock Down, which actually causes humanoid enemies to visually fall over... or it will when I get the bugs fixed. (Animal enemies, like cats and so on, don't visually fall over because they don't have animations for it at the moment, but they still feel the full effects of the debuff.) Anyway, there are new treasure mods that do lots of damage to knocked down opponents, and a new way to knock people down.

I also added some treasure mods that deal extra damage to monsters with a mostly-full Rage bar. Hammer has no Rage management, but the idea here is that you can Knock Down a mostly-Rage-filled enemy and then start beating the crap out of them. Or combine Hammer with another skill that has Rage control (like Psychology) to keep the monster's Rage meter in that mostly-filled state for longer (and beat the crap out of them). I'm not sure how fun this idea will end up being, but I think it has promise, so we'll test it out and get your feedback.

There are also three new abilities for Hammer: two new electricity-oriented abilities and a new group buff (which of course buffs damage). The electricity abilities are most impressive when combined with electricity buffs from another skill, but even if you don't make a "lightning build", you might end up using the new Hurl Lightning ability just to get some ranged attack damage.

I also tried to fix a few things that were obviously really overpowered, but balance isn't the main goal of these skill updates. First I want them to be more fun; THEN they can be balanced as necessary.

 

Rahu

Rahu is finally coming back onto my radar! Since Rahu is currently at the very farthest end of the game world, it hasn't seemed like the highest-priority thing to work on for a while. But in the final game, Rahu is an important crossroads city. (Remember that skills go to 125, so this level 60 city is a "mid-level city".)

For this update, I've been working to make Rahu feel more like a home that players can enjoy spending time in, rather than just a place where some NPCs happen to be standing. This time around I've been focusing on fleshing out some of the NPCs themselves, giving them personalities, quests, hangouts, that sort of thing.

This has led me off on some small side-tangents: some of these NPCs have new minor skills and tricks to teach you. I don't want to spoil them, though! You’ll have to visit Rahu to see for yourself.

 

Development Cycles, This Update, And Beyond

The last update took a very long time. I'm working on returning to a much faster update cycle -- ideally there should be just a few weeks between "snapshot" updates. As I mentioned before, frequent snapshot builds give me much faster feedback and bug reports, and just makes the whole development process smoother.

The down side is that these snapshots can be underwhelming to players because there's no big-ticket feature to get excited about. It’s also frustrating to players when some bugs get fixed (because they happened to be in the path of development this week) while other, possibly nastier, bugs aren’t fixed yet.

I use these dev blogs to give you a look at the upcoming patch, but sometimes, only looking at what goes into a single update can be misleading. There's always a whole lot of stuff going on here! It's just really hard to tell when all the pieces will come together. I don't like to talk about stuff that's more than a few weeks away because it tends to build up hype that I can't always meet in alpha. Since we use an iterative process, the first version of everything is going to be kinda crappy. Then we iterate!

But just off the top of my head, here's some stuff that I've worked on, or a team member has worked on, in the past two weeks: the new fairy race, a new combat skill, two new outdoor land areas, a new dungeon, mounts, new forums, a new main website, Steam integration, a major GUI overhaul, a new NPC feature, and fixes for a bunch of complex bugs. I don't mean that all those things are about to appear -- some are months away. And I don't mean to hype any of these things because they will probably be crappy when they first launch and need some iteration before they're fun.

But I feel like NOT talking about them at all is also kind of weird. I'm doing these dev blogs every week, never mentioning fairies, and then suddenly one week it'll be "fairies are almost here!" I dunno, it seems sort of disingenuous. But the fact is that most of MMO development is very boring to talk about anyway, so I'm not really withholding a lot of fascinating details. I'm just trying to bring you highlights!

I expect to put up a new build this week with whatever features are ready to go. There won't be any changes to Halloween drops in this update -- keys and pumpkins will continue to drop. (And we'll give a few special keys and tools to Hammer users, to help them get up to speed... but Hammer users may want to start saving up some spare keys now, if you have extra.)

That's all until next time, when I'll bring you more highlights of... whatever else I can get into this update!

 

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The big update arrived on Saturday morning, and it's gone reasonably well! There are some bugs with the new gear and abilities, and while those are easy to fix, I still haven't done a hotfix. The problem is that I didn't anticipate how tired I would be after two months of 90 hour work-weeks. So damned tired! On Saturday morning I watched the bug reports come in, and when I was confident that the servers were stable, I found myself doing the most astonishing thing on a patch day: I went back to bed. Been resting on and off ever since. I'm slowly getting back to work now, but I'm still not going at full speed. I'll need another day or two before I'm back in the swing of things. But I do expect to put up a hotfix of ability and gear fixes tomorrow evening.

While I slept, the rest of the team kept working hard. srand has been cataloging and prioritizing all of your bug reports, and Silvonis put the finishing touches on our IndieGoGo campaign, which is live now! He's also putting the finishing touches on the new forums.

 

"Pre-Legacied" New Gear

In between sleeping, I've been fixing reported treasure bugs, like gear buffs that only last a few seconds and fire mods that ignite you instead of the enemy. Not much to say about those, but I figured I'd talk a little bit about one bug that's kind of interesting: some newly-made loot is being marked as Legacy as soon as it's created. What's going on there? From the examples I've seen, the problem comes from weapons and off-hand items that have mods for unlikely skill combos.

An example is the easiest way to explain things. First, you kill the monster, and the monster's loot profile determines what items drop. Let's say a hammer drops, and let's say it's a Legendary hammer with 5 mods. Nice! But you're using Unarmed+Mentalism, so this is an Unarmed+Mentalism hammer. The game easily finds three mods for Mentalism, but when it tries to add two Unarmed mods to the hammer, there's only one mod that's eligible. So you get that one. Then it fills in the remaining slot with a generic mod because there's nothing else for it to do. Then the legacy item detector immediately flags the item, because it has 3 Mentalism mods and 1 Unarmed mod... its two skills aren't balanced.

The bug here is that there is one Unarmed mod that can be applied to hammers. In actuality, there should be zero! When that one mod stops being applicable, the game will fill both remaining slots with Generics. Then it's a one-skill item with an even balance of generic mods, and that's fine.

In this particular example, it's easy for me to decide what to do because it's not likely that a player actually wants a hammer with Unarmed mods. It's still theoretically valid, because you can still punch with your other hand, but in practice any hammer with Unarmed mods is going to be considered junk anyway. So after the hotfix, hammers will never have Unarmed on them.

But in other cases it's harder to decide what to do. A necro orb with Sword mods? Well... hmm, yeah, okay... that's viable. You could be a Necro+Sword player and want to wield an orb in your off-hand... I guess. So in that case, the fix is to make sure there's plenty of Sword mods that are eligible to be put on necro orbs.

I have to take it on a case-by-case basis, and I don't even know what all the cases are, so that's where you come in. If you find a pre-Legacied piece of new gear, please report it! I need to know what kind of item it is (claw, shield, etc.) and what two skills are on the item. I can usually figure out the problem with that info.

(There is another known Legacy bug: if you use Shamanic Infusion on an item it will become Legacy. That bug will be fixed in the hotfix, and those items will un-Legacy. No need to report them.)

 

Halloween Pt 2

After the hotfix tomorrow, the town invasions will end. They're fun, but there's such a thing as too much of a good thing... and we're getting close to reaching that point.

However, for people who didn't have much time to play last weekend, I want you to still have a way to get replacement loot, so the Halloween keys (and other Halloween special items) will continue to drop from ordinary undead like skeletons and ghouls. But there'll be a slight change to the keys after the hotfix: there will actually be several tiers of keys. What I'm worried about is high level players going into the Serbule crypt and just blasting all the newbie skeletons to bits, leaving nothing for actual newbies. (Most of our alpha players are very considerate about stuff like that, but the temptation will be too great for some.) So newbie skeletons will drop keys that only work in the 10-20 chest. Mid-level skeletons drop mid-level chest keys, and so on.

If you still have Halloween keys from before the hotfix, they will continue to work -- they will be able to unlock any chest, just like they do now. But new keys will only work for one specific level of chest.

After the next round of skill updates (for the skills I didn't have time to fix yet, like Hammer or Cow), we might bring a new version of these chests back, but tie them specifically to the updated skills. I'm not 100% sure of the details there -- I have some other ideas that might work better -- but the point is that you won't be forgotten: when your skill is revised, we'll make sure you have a chance to get replacement loot in one form or another.

 

Please keep reporting bugs, that's very helpful! And please check out the IndieGoGo campaign. If you didn't get a chance to back our Kickstarter, this is the last chance to get special rewards. If you DID back us already and want to help us out, it's hugely helpful to share the link to our campaign in your social media circles. Thanks for all your help, and I'll talk to you next week!

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/project-gorgon-pc-mmo

 

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It wouldn't be an alpha update if I wasn't working on it right up until the last second! I am still coding as fast as I can here to get the most obvious problems fixed. The plan is that when I can't keep my eyes open anymore, I'll call it done, and kick off the build process. When I awaken in the early AM tomorrow, we'll put the update live. If something goes wrong the update may have to be postponed until Saturday evening/Sunday morning, but I doubt it'll need more than a day of delay at most.

No time for a long blog post today, I'm just typing this up while I eat lunch and then it's back to debugging Halloween. But here are the notes I wrote on the other two skills that I had time to revise.

 

Archery

Archery is supposed to be a versatile damaging skill. Where fire magic is basically just murdering 24/7, archery can mezz, manage aggro, and so on. But the non-murdering parts of Archery weren't very fleshed out. I added some new supporting loot effects, much of it aimed at supporting an Animal Handling pet, for the classic "ranger" vibe. There's some equipment that boosts taunt and some that reduces taunt, depending on how you want to play it with your pet.

The skill also didn't have a full complement of either abilities or treasure, so two new abilities were added along with corresponding treasure. Restorative Arrow is a Major Healing ability that can only be used on an ally, not yourself. The primary use case would be to heal a pet (including an undead pet!), but it can also be handy when in a group. It uses Reservoir Arrows. Mangling Shot is a new attack that stuns at range. It's pretty great. It uses Long Arrows.

I had a hard time dealing with the "heavy archery" abilities (Heavy Shot and Heavy Multishot). They don't really make a lot of sense in the modern game. I originally envisioned them as being just flat-out better than other archery attacks, but requiring very expensive arrows. But now I don't want to balance around the difficulty of obtaining ammunition, at least not on a per-ability basis! For now, I've revised these abilities to be very-slow-reuse mega-attacks. That way they can be better than other attacks, but not overpowering everything else entirely.

My "vision" for Archery doesn't really include Epic Attacks -- I've always felt like archery should be a fast skill that's good at reacting to new situations, and slow attacks don't help that. But in practice, the heavy attacks seem fine. I mean, they do a lot of damage, and hey, who doesn't like assassinating things from afar? But still, I may replace those abilities entirely in a future revision, and repurpose the heavy arrows into quarrels for the upcoming crossbow skill.

 

Druid

Druid is the king of debuffs, a duke of heals, and a ... whatever's just below duke... of killing stuff. I found the skill to be in reasonably good shape, compared to some of the others I revised. It just needed some fleshing out and the removal of a lot of "50% chance to do blah" treasure effects. I added a few new treasure effects for healing, a few more debuffing effects, and a bunch of DoT effects. Druids can gear up to do either poison or nature damage-over-time (or a mix). The DoTs are very effective in soloing. The debuffs really shine in a group, when used against big Elite monsters. (But the debuffs are still quite useful when soloing, too.)

The ability Cosmic Strike was refactored into a VERY big damage-dealer with a very slow (45 second) cooldown. I wanted it to have a really big damage number, to give it that "Dreva says you're supposed to die now" kind of finger-of-death vibe. But to do that it needed to be slower and cost more Power. At 45 seconds it's still usable in most fights, and it's quite satisfying to use.

Like Archery, Druid was missing some abilities to fill out its treasure table. I added two new abilities: Cloud Sight causes partial blindness, which is a debuff, and also does very respectable damage. Pulse of Life is a smaller targeted heal for people who want to focus more on the supporting aspects.

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When is the Update?

The top question on everyone’s mind is probably: When is this update going to happen?

I have good news and bad news on that. Since the last dev note, I've been revising treasure for each skill as fast as humanly possible. And it’s going pretty fast, all things considered! But each skill represents a ton of interlocking changes, and if I don’t want to leave these skills in a worse place then they are now I have to invest the time in doing them right.

I am very sad to report that I can't get the revisions done any faster than one skill per day ... and most take two. This is frustrating because completing all the skills at this pace will take another couple of weeks. But I really need to start fixing bugs, dealing with unexpected side-effects ... and getting your feedback so I can start adjusting anything that’s broken or un-fun. In other words, I need to get the update out the door!

So I've decided to finish the treasure revisions for a couple more skills, then switch to polish-mode on the skills that are already done.

Most animal-form skills, Battle Chemistry, probably Animal Handling, Ice Magic, and a few others won't be revised in this update. They will still be updated to use the new formulas -- the changes to Power cost, reuse timers, and damage that I talked about a few weeks ago -- but they won't have new treasure effects or abilities yet. It’s not ideal, but then alpha is rarely ideal. As soon as this update is pushed out the door (and we deal with any immediate hot-fix bugs), I can start working on these other skills.

 

Notes on Revised Skills

I’ve jotted down some notes about each skill that I've finished revising so far. Keep in mind that my goals and my execution are two different things. I wouldn't be surprised if half of the things I'm excited about in these notes don't pan out as being fun enough or viable enough yet.

But I wanted to share these notes because it gives some insight into my goals, and you can give feedback about how well I met those goals once the update is live.

 

Sword

Sword is the first weapon-skill that players get, and it's supposed to be a solid middle-of-the-pack combat skill with both good damage and good survivability. It's distinguished from other combat skills by having the best Rage-management tools of any skill.

Unfortunately, Sword has also been a testing ground for lots of experiments and changes over the years that I've been developing the game. I've removed a lot of crufty weird treasure effects and cleaned up the abilities too. (There are no new abilities, but the existing abilities' intended uses are more emphasized.)

Now, I'm hopeful that the skill can be geared to emphasize several different things: pure damage, rage management, or survivability. (For example, when paired with Archery or Necromancy, it could serve as the second line of defense when monsters get into melee range.) Its signature debuff is very powerful, especially against elite monsters, and it's just a good general melee skill.

Decapitate is the Swordsman's epic attack. It's much more epic than before, but still as slow as ever. In solo situations it's very useful, but in group situations it can't sustain DPS as well as other abilities. Instead, in a group scenario it's probably best used to deal with "adds" -- monsters that wander into your group's combat while it's already in progress. With a few pieces of gear, Decapitate can insta-kill many weaker non-elite monsters, or send them fleeing in terror.

Rage-depletion effects have been improved across the board (not just for Sword, but most noticeably for Sword). And for swordsmen that want to be able to manage the Rage of boss monsters in group situations, I've made it easier (and more effective) to use both Parry and Riposte together. In solo situations, using both of these abilities at the same time is probably overkill... or not. You can try it and decide for yourself.

Most of the weird target-specific treasure effects have been removed, like goblin-killing and cat-killing and so on, but I tried to salvage a few of them by making them apply to a much broader range of monsters. We'll see how that works out.

 

Mentalism

Mentalism is primarily a support skill that shines in groups, and I wanted to buff that aspect up a bit, but I also wanted to make sure that the offensive aspects are viable. Mentalism isn't supposed to be anywhere as effective as Fire Magic or Hammer for killing things, but it should let you solo well enough if you gear for it. (After all, "pure healers" have to be able to solo somehow, right? A player using Mentalism and, say, Psychology to play support roles will probably need a different suit of gear for soloing and support, but both jobs should be doable.)

On the offensive side, the biggest change was the addition of a new epic attack called Agonize. (It replaces the ability Mind-Armor Wave.) Agonize deals Psychic damage, and it deals a shit-ton of it, so things that give you a percentage boost to Psychic damage are quite impressive with this ability. Mentalism and Psychology have always gone well together for support roles, and with this trick they have a bit more synergy on offense too.

Mentalism also has strong Electric attacks, and I've tried to make sure that they'll work well both stand-alone and in tandem with other Electric-attacking skills (like Hammer, Druid, or eventually Weather Witch).

On the support side, some of the treasure-effects for the Psi-wave abilities were combined into a smaller number of multi-use effects. This makes it more plausible for a mentalist to switch which psi-wave they're using in different circumstances. The most important treasure effect for a psi-wave-using mentalist is the one that boosts the potency of all three recovery waves. Because it's very important, it has a higher chance of showing up than most treasure-effects do.

 

Staff

Staff is the weapon-skill with the most survivability. It can be used by tanks or by "squishy" skill users like fire mages or even archers.

As it was, Staff's treasure was very boring and crappy and it needed a lot of rewriting. It was actually QUITE powerful as a defensive skill already, a bit too much so, but its offensive abilities were unreliable. Staff isn't supposed to be a top-tier DPS skill, but you should be able to gear it up to be a very solid attack skill.

A new Staff ability called Phoenix Strike was added. This is an Epic attack that deals Fire damage and gives you fire-"thorns" -- that is, if melee attackers hit you, they catch fire. While quite useful on its own, it has obvious synergy with Fire Magic. Several new treasure effects can heighten this synergy. There are also treasure effects that synergize with other skills, like Ice Magic and even Unarmed (for that staff/claw build that I'm still trying to make viable).

One of Staff's distinctive flavors is that it can take extreme advantage of Vulnerable targets. I've tried to beef that up and make it possible to build your gear around this idea, with some new ways to trigger monsters' Vulnerability and take advantage of it. But I've also isolated most of the skill's vulnerability-related stuff into a few abilities and treasure effects so that it can be ignored if you want to. (But I do think a carefully-built Vulnerability build is going to be very powerful!)

Also noteworthy: the staff ability Deflective Spin is now an area-effect attack as well as a powerful defensive buff. The defensive aspect is still the main priority, but it helps flesh out Staff's crowd-management options.

 

Werewolf

Werewolves were overpowered in the same way that most of the animal forms suffer from: they have too many treasure effects for too few abilities. When I was fleshing out the animal forms and making sure they each had enough treasure effects, I neglected to make sure they had enough abilities! Werewolf had several abilities with a dozen treasure effects each. This made it pretty easy to do very high damage, but it wasn't very interesting or versatile -- every werewolf ended up playing pretty much the same. I've added two new abilities to finish out the skill's basic toolset, and along with new treasure effects, there should be a bit more diversity to builds.

Werewolf is intended to be a skirmishing combat skill, with lots of quick and dangerous attacks that synergize well with other wolves. While it should (obviously) be great at soloing, it's most impressive in the company of other werewolves, where you can trade off aggro with each other and keep the monsters disoriented. (Or, barring a werewolf friend, pets like bears, cats, or skeleton swordsmen should work well too.) That's the idea, anyway. In this update I've tried to bring some of that flavor out in the treasure, and with the new abilities.

The new ability Skulk lets you become "sneakier" (monsters have to get closer to you in order to see you). It's a tool to help you move around in tight dungeon spaces more safely, and it lets you start combat with a bang. Treasure effects can turn it into a potent pre-combat buffing ability, or alternately it can be turned into a very big mid-combat de-taunt, giving you some healing and a moment's respite from aggro.

The new ability Blood of the Pack heals you and buffs your group's Trauma damage. It can be geared to work as a personal healing tool, or it can be geared to emphasize the group-support aspect.

 

Psychology

Psychology is currently the only combat skill that I don't really expect players to be able to use as their primary damage-dealing skill. (It does have some powerful attacks, but they're intended to accompany the attacks from some other skill.) But Psychology is unparalleled in its versatility. It has taunting, de-taunting, healing, rage-reduction, mezzing, some big-burst damage, unique buffs and debuffs, and survival tools like fire-dispelling. Psychology is supposed to be a big toolbox of tricks to help you build your character the way you want. If none of the other skills seem like a good match for your secondary skill, Psychology should work.

Because it's a very old skill (one of the first I coded), the treasure was pretty bad for many of these "roles". I think the skill will need some more iterations to reach the goal of "universal tool box", but it's definitely getting better. Its offensive abilities have more synergies with other combat skills; when used as a group-support skill, there's some new ways to keep your party alive; and when used by tanks, it can keep you alive as well as help you maintain aggro. There's a new ability, Mock, which helps in the tanking role. It's a basic attack with a small built-in taunt.

Psychology is still missing a core ability -- I haven't decided what it should be yet, but there's a space in the treasure-effects tables for one or two more major abilities.

 

Fire Magic

For a skill that was noticeably overpowered at high level, Fire Magic had some pretty shitty treasure. A few treasure effects were VERY brokenly good, but so many of its treasure effects were crappy. The overpowered treasure effects have been toned down significantly, but other treasure effects help pick up the slack and allow fire mages to try several different builds with different focuses.

I've always thought of fire magic as a "sloppy" kind of offensive skill -- it can deal a lot of damage, both to single targets and to small groups, but it's dangerous to fight with fire -- things can go very wrong very quickly. One way that this has been represented in the game is by Rage build-up -- fire attacks generate twice as much Rage as other damage types. I've also tried to bring some of this "danger" aspect to the treasure effects, with gear that's very powerful but has a small chance of backfiring. I didn't want to go overboard in that direction since some players want to be very precise, but it's there, and it's something I may build on at higher levels.

One particular goal was making it easier for Fire Mages to easily switch to using cold attacks in the field (perhaps with a couple of equipment swaps, but not requiring an entire wardrobe change). There's now more treasure that boosts both fire and ice at the same time. This also opens the door to better fire/ice combo builds, and even using Fire Magic + Ice Magic together, but I haven't spent a ton of thought on that yet. You can experiment and see how well it works for yourself.

 

Unarmed

Originally, Unarmed was a skill with two very different target audiences: martial arts was the main use of the skill, but it was also supposed to be a viable combat skill for players that were turned into animals. Since animals can't do fancy martial-arts-type moves like Barrage, or throw people over their hips with Hip Throw, new abilities were made just for animals -- Bodyslam and Headbutt being the two main animal-centric abilities. These abilities were (and still are!) taught by an NPC that is only friendly to animals, to help reinforce that these are the animal variants. But since anybody can learn the abilities given enough time, it's really just seen as an annoying roadblock to unlocking these abilities.

Since I imagined that you would only be able to use one or the other of each of these abilities, most gear for Barrage and Hip Throw also covers Bodyslam and Headbutt, respectively. But since you CAN use both abilities at once, a few specific gear+ability combinations were a bit too powerful. But nothing too insane, and I liked the general feel of being able to use all the abilities at once. So a few updates back, I made it so that animals can just use the regular abilities like Barrage and Hip Throw. The original problem is gone! There is now only one audience for Unarmed: martial artists, whether they be humanoids or extremely implausible kung fu spiders.

I've revised the treasure effects with the idea that all of its abilities can be used in tandem. There's still a lot of dual-ability-boosting treasure, but it feels a little less "split up". Maybe a bit more organic. And some crappy treasure effects have been replaced.

There is also a new ability, Infuriating Fist, which is intended to make Unarmed a bit more useful to tank builds. (Remember that Unarmed is animal-friendly now, so tanky animals like Cow and Deer can use Infuriating Fist too.) There's also some new aggro-building treasure effects, but I've tried to keep them split up since Unarmed should be useful for a lot of play-styles, not just tanking.

(By the way, I still need to make it easier for non-animal players to unlock the old animal-abilities like Headbutt and Bodyslam, and conversely for animals to learn the human-centric techniques like Knee Kick. I haven't done that yet, but it's on my to-do list.)

 

Necromancy

Necromancy is supposed to be a hands-on pet management skill -- your minions go forth and you use abilities like Provoke Undead and Heal Undead to keep them healthy and working well. Unfortunately due to a huge oversight, these very same hands-on abilities were the most neglected in the treasure system. There was NO treasure for the ability Heal Undead, and very little for Provoke Undead or Rebuild Undead. I didn't realize how bare these abilities were.

How did this happen? Just an alpha mistake -- tech comes online at different speeds, and when I first launched Necromancy, I was missing some tech that would let me isolate the buffs to only your undead allies. So for instance if I had a treasure effect that said "Provoke Undead boosts all skeletons' Slashing Damage", that effect wouldn't just buff your skeletons. It would also buff you, any non-undead pets, and any other allies in your group! So due to code limitations, there wasn't much I could do with those abilities at first.

Well, I fixed that technical limitation, but when It came time to fill out Necromancy's treasure profile, I completely forgot they weren't already represented in treasure. I added extra pet-buffing treasure instead. Way too much pet-buffing treasure.

I've replaced more than half of the pet-buffing treasure effects with new effects -- mostly ones that improve Heal/Rebuild/Provoke Undead, but also more treasure for some other under-served abilities. The remaining pet-buffing treasure is more general, making it a little easier to switch which skeletons you use.

I've also made Heart's Power and Spleen's Power available to be placed on the side-bar, since they don't have any treasure. (As a rule of thumb, if an ability isn't going to have any treasure effects that buff it, it should be a side-bar ability.)

Working on Necromancy caused me some angst because I want to replace the way in which skeletons are summoned. I have a fun new idea I want to try out... but I just don't have time in this update.

 

So When *IS* the Update?

As I write this, I'm partially through with Archery. I may have time to do one or two more significant skill overhauls, but then I need to switch to polishing, sanity-checking, and adding all the missing bits. I'm shooting for the 28th as the big launch day, but even though that's 8 days away, it will require a lot of hours of hard work to hit that deadline... and a bit of luck. So wish me luck!

 

Q&A

This is already a really long dev blog, but I did want to address a couple of questions I saw popping up after the last few dev blogs.

Additive + Multiplicative Effects: Someone asked how additive and multiplicative bonuses stack. This is a meaty topic with lots of special cases, but in general, there are four steps. Let's look at an example using Super Fireball 4. I picked it because it just happens to do 250 base damage, a nice round number. It's also the "Core Attack" for Fire Magic.

  • Buffs that add flat amounts (+5, +10, etc.) are added to your ability's damage first. ("+25 to Super Fireball"= 275. "+25 to Core Attacks" = 300.)
  • Buffs that multiply a particular ability's damage are applied next. ("+20% to Super Fireball" = 360.) Note that the percentage-boost mods also boost the flat amounts.
  • Next your "Base Damage Mod" is added in. This one surprises people: Base Damage Mods ONLY look at the ability's base damage. (Hence the name.) So it's always the same amount of bonus for each ability, regardless of what other treasure is applied. If you have an ability that deals 250 base (un-enhanced) damage and you have a +35% Base Damage mod, it always adds 87 damage to the ability, no more and no less. ("+35% Fire Magic Base Damage" = 447.)
  • Damage-type bonuses and vulnerabilities are applied last. ("+10% to Fire Damage" = 491.) This is why boosts to Fire, Psychic, etc. tend to use much smaller numbers than the other bonuses -- they can get overpowered very quickly!

(edited to fix math!)

 

Organic Combos: I noticed some concerns about the example of "organic combos" in last week’s dev blog. The skill revision details above might give a better overall picture of how I see organic combos working, but let me hit it more directly here.

"Organic combos" aren't real combos -- there's no requirement to use specific abilities in a certain order. Instead, ‘organic combo’ is just a way to think about those treasure buffs that affect several abilities in different skills.

When soloing, equipment with these buffs does make specific ability orderings more beneficial than others -- but that's true in general of all buffs: if you have equipment that buffs an ability, you use the buff before you use the ability.

In groups, things become more chaotic. Other people may have equipment with treasure effects that can bestow these buffs on you at arbitrary times. So who you’re with, what abilities they use, what equipment they’re wearing today, and what role you’re filling will all factor into which organic combos you may choose to use - and which you choose to ignore.

Organic combos are sparse enough that for most combat skills you can completely skip them, replacing them with other kinds of treasure effects. Some skills don't even have any buffs of this variety. It depends on my vague personal interpretation of how the skill should "feel".

Anyway, that’s the idea. Once I get this update out the door, I’ll need your feedback to see if you think I got anywhere close to my goal.

 

Halloween: Lots of people have been asking about this year’s Halloween festivities. It’s going to be tight, but if I get this update out the door on time, you’ll have some Halloween stuff for Halloween. If not, Halloween will come a little late this year. But it will happen.

 

Ability Categories: I've mentioned ability categories like "Core Attack" before. Here are the current set of cross-skill ability tags. Some are old, some are new:

  • Basic Attack: these are fast-reset abilities with no Power cost. There are very few treasure effects that buff Basic Attacks, but there's a couple.
  • Core Attack: every combat skill has at least one medium-speed (8-10 second reuse timer) attack ability. I've chosen one such ability for each skill and called it the Core Attack. It may not be your personal "core", or even be on your ability bar at all. It's just a name so I can break up the abilities.
  • Nice Attack: all combat skills have a larger attack that's slower but more impressive. To give you an example, the Nice Attack for Sword is Finishing Blow.
  • Epic Attack: a few skills have an attack that's on a very long (30+ second) reuse timer and deals a ton of damage. These are tagged as Epic Attacks.
  • Signature Debuff: this is an offensive ability that debuffs the target somehow. Most combat skills have one of these. (In non-debuff-oriented skills, the skills' stun-attack is often their Signature Debuff.)
  • Signature Support: a few support-oriented skills have a slow-reset buff that helps the whole group.
  • Major Heal: these are abilities with a slow reuse time (30 seconds) that target a single person. First Aid is a Major Heal, so everyone has access to at least one of these.
  • Survival Utility: these are slow (20-30 second reuse) abilities designed to help the player stay alive -- usually they're a personal heal, but some skills have an offensive buff here, because sometimes the best defense is a good offense.
  • Minor Heal: a few healing-oriented skills have a targeted healing ability with a faster reuse time. There are only a few Minor Heal abilities in the game.

Despite the names, these tags aren't intended to define how a skill is used -- they're just a way to group different abilities across skills. I made sure that all combat abilities have a Core and Nice attack, and eventually all will have a Basic Attack as well, but other than that, it's up in the air. I didn't feel like these tags were important enough to heavily revise a skill just to make a tag apply. For instance, neither Fire Magic nor Werewolf happen to have long-reset attack abilities, so they have no Epic Attack. Not a big deal.

 

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I'll be brief this week because I'm in crunch-mode!

The hurricane came and went, and our neighborhood is now covered in leaves and fallen branches from the wind but we're otherwise unharmed. We lost some time from all the drama (power outages and such), but nothing too big.

But I did run into a more serious delay in getting this update out the door: basically, treasure sucks too much and has to be improved. This will take time.

Well, let me step back. I got the new combat systems up and running, and they work pretty well. Abilities are a little slower, solo monsters have a bit less health, Power costs and regeneration rates are revised (for instance, combat is now balanced around the idea that you have eaten a level-appropriate Meal, which now gives significant in-combat regeneration), armor stats are higher, Combat Refresh is more potent, and base ability damage is much higher. That last one is a big help in the early levels when you don't have a lot of treasure, and in general makes it more plausible to use abilities without a ton of specialized treasure for them.

It works great, time to ship it! Except... as soon as I tried to broaden the scope to apply to all skills, I had to face the fact that most treasure effects suck. We knew that already, and I've discussed it, but I was hoping to put off rewriting all the treasure until a later update just to get this one out the door. But I don't think I can postpone it, because the changes I've made actually make already-sucky treasure suckier.

As an example, there are a lot of treasure effects that give, say, a 66% chance to do something. Those effects aren’t very fun (and were scheduled for eventual replacement), but they worked okay if you had two copies of them -- odds are very good that at least one of them will activate each time. But with two-skill builds, you're much less likely to be able to fit two of each effect into your build. And a single percentage-chance effect by itself is just frustrating, especially if it does anything important (like stun or heal), or if it's on a slow reuse timer.

Another problem that was made worse by my changes is that treasure effects aren't distributed across equipment slots well. Hammer has 16 main-hand treasure effects, and only 8 effects for most other slots. This makes it pretty hard to build good two-skill gear sets with Hammer.

And a lot of treasure is just not very useful. The older skills like Sword and Fire Magic suffer the most from this, because they have effects that were added as prototypes while I was fleshing out all the things that treasure can do. Taking a good honest look at them, many are unsalvageable. Nobody wants a fire-magic buff that deals extra damage to "creatures that are inherently on fire" because there's only three or four monsters like that in the whole game, and I'm not really planning on adding tons more. So that's good tech to have, but a bad treasure effect. And when you have split-skill treasure, a single really shitty treasure effect feels more damning to the item's overall quality.

The bottom line is that I need to overhaul the treasure effects themselves in order for this plan to work well. I wanted to postpone that, but it ain't happenin', so fine... I'll do that too! So the bad news is that it will be a while yet. I'm not yet sure how long it'll take. Let's say "before Halloween".

The good news is that this is the most fun that treasure has ever been, by a LARGE margin. I've finished revising the treasure for sword, fire magic, and mentalism so far, and they are a blast. If the others follow suit, this will really be a lot of fun to build gear suits with.

So what sorts of changes am I making? Well, I've added a lot of ways for the skills to interact. I used the existing "ability categories" (like Epic Attacks) and added some new ones, like Core Attacks and Nice Attacks. Most attack-centric skills have several of these categorized abilities, and there are lots of new treasure effects that do things like: "Debilitating Blow deals +32 damage and causes your Core Attacks to deal +50 damage for 10 seconds". This effect is useful by itself -- it boosts the Core Attack in Sword, which is Many Cuts. But it also boosts the Core Attack in, say, Shield, which is Disrupting Bash. So there's some synergy to find depending on what skills you're using. There's also more effects that boost damage by type, or enhance entire classes of abilities (such as all Burst attacks) for a few seconds.

I'm also adding more treasure that applies to several abilities in the skill. This is really important for helping players make broad gear sets that aren't too specialized on one or two buttons. There's lots of new treasure effects like: "Scintillating Flame and Fire Bolts boost your Core Attack Damage and Epic Attack Damage +33 for 15 seconds". That one's a mouthful, but it has broad applicability, and while +33 doesn't sound very great, it's actually pretty potent because it stacks with itself -- Scintillating Flame has a short enough timer that you can get two uses in, let alone adding in Fire Bolts, and possibly doubling the stacks by having a second copy of the treasure effect.

I've been mostly tossing out the classic "combo" treasure effects, instead creating sort of "organic combos", like the one above. The above effect means that you should use Scintillating Flame and/or Fire Bolts before you use your Core and Epic attacks. The game doesn't have to hold your hand and give you a little GUI -- you can figure it out based on which abilities you're using.

I'm also being much more liberal with effects that significantly alter how an ability works -- changing Power costs, reuse timers, even damage types. This works in both directions -- some of the most overpowered treasure now has negative effects on the ability (such as slowing down the reuse timer). Do you want your Fire Breath to hit everybody within 5 meters? Yes, of course you do -- that's a no-brainer, it's a treasure effect that's so good you'd be dumb not to have it... but now, it also raises the Power cost and reuse time by 20%. Still a good deal? Yes -- on paper it's still a phenomenal trade-off in the player's favor -- but the down sides mean that for certain builds or playstyles, the effect isn't necessarily a no-brainer.

Using negative effects in a few places lets me fit in treasure that I was having a hard time justifying before. Stuff like the Fire Breath AoE effect is really cool and I want the game to have it, but without some down side, it's just too potent.

But most treasure effects don't have any drawbacks, of course. Instead, I've used things like cheaper Power costs and faster reuse times to give new ways to improve your abilities. Do you want your attack to do 25% more damage or have a 1-second faster reuse timer? That's going to depend on a lot of specific details. Which is good -- it means there are choices, interesting choices, and at higher level, those choices are what treasure is supposed to be about.

I'm still trying to figure out how long this work will take, but I really don't know. Each skill I've done so far has needed some new unique tricks and code tweaks to give it the distinctive flavor I want it to have. When I revised Mentalism, I ended up throwing out an ability and replacing it with an entirely new one. When I did Sword, I had to throw out almost half of the treasure, replacing it with some interesting new tricks. These older skills are probably in the worst shape, so I'm hoping that skills like Knife and Druid are going to be faster to revise, but I won't know 'til I get there.

But I'm excited about it. The changes seem to make treasure much more interesting to me. Not all of these new ideas are going to pan out, but I'm confident that enough of them will work that treasure will feel a lot more interesting.

There are lots of other fixes in this update, and Halloween is coming, so I do feel a lot of pressure to get the update out the door. But in this particular instance, I feel like treasure quality has to come first, or the other changes just won't make any sense. And I mean, it's alpha. We missed Halloween last year and did the event in November instead... and it's not really the end of the world. But I'm still optimistic that it'll be done before Halloween... I know there's Bat players waiting to reach level 60 so they can make fun of the battle chemists, who still can't level up. Don't worry bats, I've got your back. Soon. Ish.

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Well, this week flew by! I'm still working on the update. Aside from a one-day detour, the whole week has been me changing spreadsheets, playing with the changes for an hour or two, trying again, rinse and repeat. All day every day. It's not boring exactly... but it's also not interesting to talk about. So instead, let me talk about some questions and concerns players have had, both in the forum thread and via other channels. (And I'll talk about that one-day detour, too.)

 

Changing Gear on the fly: one concern players brought up is that it will be harder to switch to different skill layouts on the fly. Because gear is always focused on two skills, you can't just change skills -- you'll have to change gear, too. Those little buttons next to the ability bars are going to be impractical to use because you'll need different equipment when you switch skills. This is a good point, but I have a solution that will help.

By the way, those little buttons next to the ability bars were an experiment for newbies. Most new players seemed to stick with Sword+Unarmed (the default skills) for a very long time -- many hours -- even after they'd unlocked several more skills. As an experiment, I added those little buttons to see if newbies tried out more skills. And those little buttons definitely helped, so they were left in. (We'll try something a little more nuanced and useful in the next GUI, I think.)

Those little buttons on the side let you switch skills, but don't make it easy to switch gear or abilities.

 

Those little buttons are convenient but they were never the "main" way I envisioned people switching skills on the fly. Instead, there's a new feature called load-outs. Load-outs save the configuration of all three of your ability bars, and also save what equipment you're wearing.

Load-outs unlock when you get your first skill to level 25.

 

Load-outs work like this: once you get your first combat skill to level 25, you unlock two load-out slots. Thereafter, each combat skill you get to level 50 unlocks another slot, up to a maximum of 9. You can switch load-outs whenever you're not in combat. You can use the Load buttons in the GUI pictured above, or you can configure hotkeys to switch load-outs with a keypress.

The equipment used by load-outs is marked with a special icon in your inventory so that you can easily tell which ones are in use. And these items don't show up in the vendor GUI -- they are effectively "locked" from being sold.

I've talked about adding load-outs before, but it was postponed until the new GUI arrived. But funny story there: the other day, I decided to add them as text-commands so that advanced players could use something like "/layout 1" to switch layouts. That meant no GUI was involved -- just server-side work. I hoped that it would alleviate some player concerns. I gave myself one work day to finish those chat commands, but they ended up only taking a few hours. So then, since I was already working on the system, I added more features, and then the little GUI window you see above, and now it's a fully functional load-out system. All in one day. Ugly, yes, but fully functional.

I'm still tweaking and improving load-outs a little bit here and there as I play with them, but they are insanely helpful for my testing, and I'm sure you'll find many interesting uses for them. I really should have added them a long time ago. I just figured it would take a lot more work than it did!

 

Base Damage: we've talked about this in earlier blogs, and I'm still on the fence about the base-damage mods. For the moment, I've just made the drop-rate on base-damage mods very high, so if you're using Sword+Mentalism (for example), pretty much every sword will have +Sword Base Damage, every helmet will have both Sword and Mentalism base damage, and chests will have Mentalism base damage. This solves the problem of "I need these mods and I can't get them easily enough", but the opposite problem is also a thing: "I use psychology for healing and I don't want +Psychology Base Damage if it means I have less healing!" So ... it's a work in progress. I've experimented with a few replacement ideas but nothing has clicked here yet.

 

Combos: combos have always been a balance problem because they are either too annoying to use or too powerful. In other words, they're too much trouble to keep track of, so unless the effect is REALLY good, players don't use them. I've been iterating on this problem each time I have a chance to revise treasure, and I'll continue to do so. There was a suggestion to broaden more combos to use "wildcard" steps, and I think that's worth trying, so I'll change a bunch of the combos to have more generic steps in between, such as "Fireball + * + * + * + Fire Breath = combo", where * could be any kind of ability. We'll see how it feels, and iterate more from there.

 

Combat Refresh: several players wanted to avoid having to use basic attacks to trigger combat refreshes, instead adding the combat-refresh power to their favored ability. But that goes against the goal of making you use more abilities in combat! I want you to use a lot of abilities, and my metrics suggest that very few players -- like, almost no players -- use all twelve abilities on a regular basis. So you have slots you aren't using already. I'm adding basic attacks to each skill, so you'll always be able to put the basic attack on either bar -- wherever it fits. Since you weren't using all your ability slots anyway (statistically speaking), this shouldn't cause too much hassle.

And the big upside of pushing players to use a Basic Attack is that it adds some much-needed consistency between skills. And that lets me add more interesting treasure effects. I'll show you what I mean in the next blog post, if some of these ideas pan out, but the point is that when everybody has something consistent, like a basic attack, I can add interesting things that tie into it and let your two skills interact.

 

Multi-Skill Gear Effects: one suggestion that came up a few times was to do multi-skill treasure effects. And I definitely want to do a LOT more of these! (See the discussion of basic attacks above.) The most obvious way to implement it, though, has already been tried and doesn't work. For instance, a treasure effect that says "<ability from skill X> and <ability from skill Y> deal +50% damage" is only satisfying for people who happen to use both of those abilities. Players know that the ability's potency is a little watered-down because it can apply to both abilities, and they hate the feeling of "wasting" their potential. Even if the damage isn't watered down at all (which is only possible in certain circumstances), players don't seem to like them anyway, presumably because it still seems like it would probably be weaker.

And anyway, treasure effects that apply to only one other ability aren't broad enough, given how few treasure effects there are. I want treasure effects that can be used by a large number of builds. That's the reason I recently added the ability descriptors like "Epic Attack" and "Signature Debuff": to add treasure effects that apply to all the abilities in that category. And I'll also try some other ideas, like treasure that says "<ability from skill X> grants <bonus Base Damage to skill Y> for 5 seconds". It'll only be useful to people who happen to use both of those skills, but at least it doesn't lock you into two specific abilities -- only one, like normal.

In short, yes, making treasure synergize between multiple skills is definitely a goal. But it's a long-term goal. It will take more iterations to find the most successful ways to do it. In the next update I'll just change a few treasure effects to work this way so you can give feedback on how it feels and we can evolve it further.

 

Transmutation permanently locking in two skills: In an earlier blog post, I explained that the transmutation table will start to "enforce" the two-skill breakdown on gear, and it was asked if that was permanent or just transitional. In case it wasn't clear, yes: it's permanent. Otherwise, players would just use Transmutation to make single-skill gear again, undermining the whole point of this change. However, there will be a separate table that can help you cheaply adjust your existing Legacy gear, and THAT table is probably temporary.

 

On lowering the number of total treasure effects: I think the number is good where it is. For most skills there's really only about ten treasure effects per gear slot. That means that two-skill gear is only pulling from a pool of twenty or so effects. And if you're transmuting, you're pulling from a pool of only ten effects! (On average.) So the odds are already pretty great for transmuting a specific effect you want. Now, lots of the current treasure effects would never be desired by power-players, and I want to improve those. But throwing them out isn't improving them.

 

Iterating vs. Starting Over

And that brings me to a really important point about game design. It's always tempting to throw out stuff that doesn't work. It's boring to tweak and revise stuff, and it's so much more FUN to try all new designs! But no design works well the first time. Unless the design is being stolen straight from some other game, it's going to need iteration. *Lots* of iteration. Iteration is boring and time-consuming and it can be tedious, both for the designer and the play-testers. "Ugh, this system still doesn't work, why not try <brand new idea>?" And I do periodically throw away designs and start over... but I have to give ideas a fair shake first.

So that's my answer to a lot of questions: "Why not throw out Combat Refresh and do <X>", "Why not abandon the two-skill design and do <Y>", "How about if <Z> became the focus of Necromancy instead of the pets, since the pets suck?" Those ideas are sexy and exciting but they will need just as much iterative revising as what's in the game now. I'm iterating on these existing systems because I think I can make them work well with more iteration. If something just REALLY doesn't work, then of course I'll abandon it. But right now, this is the part of the game's development where I have to just grind out iterative improvements.

That's not to say I don't like reading new design suggestions! I can often take parts of those and apply them to existing designs, or use them when I make the next new skill or ability. (There are several more entire combat skills to add, along with a bunch of variant skills... but I'd like to get the existing ones working better before adding even more data to my gigantic spreadsheets.)

 

Playstyle choices: The idea behind this complaint seems to be that players liked focusing on just one skill, and by removing that option, I'm removing choices. But that's not true. The number of choices is exactly the same, actually. Right now, you could say "I want to focus all my gear on Archery", OR you can say "I'll focus on both Sword and Archery". That's two choices... but one is dramatically weaker than the other. After this update, both options are still open to you. If you want to focus only on Archery, go right ahead. Use only Archery and Generic treasure effects. You will probably be weaker than somebody who focuses on two skills and does a good job synergizing their gear... but so what? One of the two possibilities was already weaker. I just changed which is which. And I did that because I know that two-skill builds will hold players' attention a lot longer than single-skill builds.

Most players will gravitate to gameplay styles that are easiest. (That's just human nature: smart people find the path of least resistance to getting what they want, whether it be in a game or in real life.) In fact, in an MMO, this is often a very big problem because even players that want to try weird ideas often feel "obligated" to follow the easiest path due to peer pressure. If your friends are all using a build that's vastly better than your build, you'll feel pressure to change toward their builds, even if you were having fun with your slower build. And there's no way to avoid that pressure -- I can't make all play styles equally easy and equally powerful. Instead, my job as a game designer is to make sure that the "easy" path is the one I think is most fun, in the long term. Speaking of which...

 

On making the game "less fun": This concern is sort of similar to the last one, but it's a little meatier. The idea here is that it's fun to be able to kill monsters with just a few button presses, so my push for longer combats with more combat-actions makes the game less fun. And that is ... true. For a little while. But not for thousands of hours of gameplay.

This is a problem that ARPGs run into all the time. It's their Achilles' heel, actually... they start out incredibly fun, but they get boring too quickly. Hmm, how can I talk about this without badmouthing a fellow MMO team? Ah, I know. Did you ever play Kingdoms of Amalur? It's a really fun single-player game, but if they'd managed to turn that combat into an MMO, it would have been a flop. I was bored after "just" 70 or 80 hours. I'd seen all the iterations they could come up with, and there wasn't a lot more they could do with the combat except make the numbers get higher. There was nothing left to think about after I'd mastered the action parts, so I got bored.

I didn't feel ripped off... eighty hours of gameplay is a lot of fun for a single-player game. But MMO play-time is often measured in four-digit numbers... or five-digit numbers for long-running games! The core gameplay has to stand the test of time. It's my job as a designer to get this right, or my game simply will not survive for years to come.

So yes, for a short game, short combats are more fun. But that gets less true the longer the game is supposed to last.

This isn't the first time I've had to reduce short-term fun for long-term viability. For instance, there used to be no global cooldown timer and animations could be interrupted, so you could spam all your abilities instantly, interrupting the combat animations to just blast out all your attacks within a few seconds. That was actually really fun at first, but it couldn't stand the test of time. Since monsters only lived for a few seconds, they had to hit VERY hard in order to pose any danger. That meant combat was very lethal. A surprise addition was very hard to deal with. Combat was either very easy or very frustrating, and I couldn't get a middle ground. After iterating a while, I declared it a dead-end and added a traditional global cooldown timer, like most MMOs have. (It's 1.3 seconds if you're wondering. That's a little faster than the average MMO, but in the same ballpark.)

Another example of "removing fun" is that I'm eventually going to remove the ability to run really fast during combat. It's a lot of fun to outmaneuver monsters, racing past them, shooting them in the ass as they desperately try to regroup, then doing the same thing again and again. But it's not sustainable for thousands of hours of gameplay. I can add trick monsters, like ones that stun at long range, but a trick monster is a special case. Special cases can't be the core of gameplay.

 

Play-tester burnout: In the past, a few play-testers have quit each time I make big changes like this, because they're nerfs. That's always a danger when you nerf something: players feel personally slighted, like you just shat on their ice cream cone. They are now having less fun, and they don't have to take that kinda shit from a game, so they go play something else. Nerfing something after a game launches is a very hard call. Sometimes you really need to do it, but you agonize over it, because who wants to lose players?

But this is alpha. You are not players. (No offense!) You are play-testers. I can't afford to lock down my alpha choices in order to keep the tiny audience of alpha gamers happy. I'm iterating on all kinds of design elements, and sometimes a fun thing isn't sustainable. I have to do what's right for the final game. Alpha-testing is a lot of fun if you approach it from the right viewpoint. You guys get to experience a lot of things that won't be feasible in the final game, when there's 1000 people logged in. If you've ever gotten your Sprint Speed up to 20, that's a run-speed of 45 mph! It's hilarious and fun... when there's a few dozen people online. Not as viable when there's a thousand people blurring around everywhere, causing the monster path-finding service to explode trying to keep up. The fact is that some kinds of fun can't last... but that doesn’t mean you shouldn't enjoy them while they're here. Just understand that change has to happen eventually. Stay fluid... that's the key to avoiding alpha burnout.

Anyway, based on some of the feedback I've received this week, I can't say I'll be surprised if some players quit over this change. I hope you find fun elsewhere, and can come back and try out the final game. But I do hope that most of you will stick with it to get past any disappointing first impression of "nerf", and can help me make this design work!

 

Lots More to Do

I'm still working very hard on the next update. By my best guess, I have something like 50 more hours of data-crunching to do to convert all the skills and treasure (and make sure it's vaguely playable), so I should get that wrapped up this week... but then I need a week to polish everything. So we're at least two weeks out. The scope has broadened in various places, but it remains focused on the same core mechanics issues -- there are just a lot of facets involved. This is a big update, and it improves how the game feels in a lot of ways.

Please have patience, and please keep communicating!

 

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This week has been a side-track week. As I tested the gear changes, it became very clear that it's much too hard to compare equipment. Part of that is intentional, of course -- each piece of gear can affect lots of different abilities in very different ways, because I *want* gear choices to be difficult! But I want them to be difficult because you can't decide which item you like better, not because you're doing lots of math in your head.

The game needs to automatically tell you how your gear affects your abilities. So I've spent most of the week working on that. This feature was planned for beta, as part of the "polishing phase", but... well, I've come to realize that it's not polish, it's necessary for basic gameplay.

However, it's not easy to implement. I have to break all the treasure effects down in new ways, add a bunch of data to abilities, and then route all this new data through new systems. It's a lot of work, but the results are pretty elegant:

This ability is augmented by several gear effects that raise Sword Base Damage, Wind Strike Damage, and Slashing Damage, and it's all been compiled into one stat. When equipment adds new functionality to the ability, like the +50% projectile evasion mod shown here, that's listed at the bottom.

This info is shown when you hover over abilities on the ability bar AND when you view abilities in the Persona window. That's important, so that you can put on a piece of gear and then see how it affects all your abilities.

These numbers also take into account every buff you have, not just your gear buffs. In the example above, Wind Strike 4 makes your next attack deal +20 damage. So after you use Wind Strike, all your abilities' damage will be displayed as being 20 higher until your next attack. This behavior can be a little surprising sometimes, but once you understand how it works, it really helps you see how buffs and debuffs are affecting you.

This effort is still underway, and I'm working nonstop to try to get it done fast, but it's basically delayed the update by a week. However, I don't think I made a bad call here: this changes how I play in a very positive way, and I think you'll like it also.

 

Combat Refreshes

Combat Refreshes are a bigger deal after the next update because armor restores more stuff when you use a refresh. So it's more important than ever to be able to tell if your Combat Refresh timer is up! I reimplemented it so that the client can tell when the refresh is ready. Your basic attacks will now flash with an icon (and play a sound) when your refresh is ready, and a little icon in the top-right will also show up in case you missed the blinking. Oh, and combat refreshes no longer activate if you're fully healed up and they wouldn't restore anything.

 

(In this screenshot, the wing icon is blinking overtop the Fireball and Mindreave basic attacks.)

 

 

Loot Profile Changes

I've also tweaked loot so that you find more of the weapons (and off-hand items) you need, and less that you don't. If you're using Unarmed skill, you'll have a much higher chance of finding unarmed weapons, and much lower chance of finding, say, fire orbs.

This wasn't done earlier because the loot system just couldn't do it. But I added the necessary code features in the last update, so this just involved a lot of data-entry. I'm sure the ratios and percentages will need further tweaking, but it feels less frustrating now, especially at low level when you desperately need a damned sword but keep finding other weapons instead.

 

 

Monster Changes

After this rebalance update, I want to meet the design goal of you being able to fight two solo monsters at once. In the current game, fighting two monsters at once at level 50+ is unrealistic unless your gear is REALLY good. (Or you have a mesmerize effect or other crowd-control tools.)

But fortunately for players, monster AI has been buggy for a long time now -- monsters that are called for help have a very silly tendency to give up and go home when they're winning! I've intentionally left the AI alone until I could work on monster stats. But since I'm making it more plausible to solo two monsters at once, it's time to make monsters smarter too.

So I've fixed AI bugs, nerfed monsters, buffed ability damage, and increased survivability features, all with the goal of making this fight-two-monsters-at-once thing a reality. I'm also taking into account that players will have a more diverse set of gear after the update because of the enforced two-skill split. And I'm also taking into account that monsters above level 45 or so were just too tough -- they'd gotten too far out of whack. It required way too much gear grinding to even fight solo monsters your level. Which is stupid. So I'll fix it.

(I'm not focusing on group monsters right now... I'll probably make some broad changes to tone them down a bit, but I'm not planning to do much with them in this update. That also means things like taunt management and rage control will probably continue to be out of whack for a while longer... but we'll get there.)

 

 

This Involves a LOT of Changes!

If the changes I've described sound self-contained and easy to test, then I haven't done a good job of describing them. I'm even more inundated with spreadsheets than I was last week. But I'm liking where it's headed. I've delayed this humungous rebalancing for a long time for various technical reasons, but now is the time.

I need to set some expectations, though. After this update, the game should be easier for mid- and high-level players to solo, NOT harder, as some forum commenters seem to expect. But due to time constraints, I'm not able to test every ability and treasure effect. I'm making formulaic changes to just about everything, and playtesting several skills at several level ranges, and the rest will be untested.

There will probably be skills that are unplayably weak at certain level ranges, and some treasure will probably be insanely overpowered, and so on. But I've been planning for this update for a long time, and the "hotfix" tech that was added a while back is specifically designed with this problem in mind. I can change just about every ability, treasure, and monster stat without requiring you to download a new client every time, and the server downtime to apply the hotfixes is less than 5 minutes.

So I'll need your help in finding problem areas, but then I'll be able to fix things (or at least, band-aid things) very quickly. I expect there will be several hotfixes the first week or two after the update.

 

 

More To Come

I know this dev-post hasn't gone into too many technical details or answered too many questions, but that's sort of a reflection of where my mind is this week: most of the week has been spent feverishly adapting game data so that it displays right in the client. And I'm still working on that right now! I'll have another update for you soon with some more specifics of how these changes work.

 

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This week's update is even more nuts-and-bolts than last week's update! This is a status report about how I'm implementing the upcoming combat changes I talked about last week. You can safely skip this one, especially if you're a new player or just not interested in the gritty details. (And if you are interested and you haven’t read last week’s blog post yet, you should do that first!)

Implementation of these changes is going well so far, but there's still a lot to do, and a lot still needs to be figured out. Please remember that everything in this post is subject to change, and in fact some of it will probably have changed by next week's blog post. In other words, this is a status update, not a finished design!

 

Changes to Combat Refresh

Last week I talked a little about Power management. One of the ways that I'm giving players more Power after the update is by increasing the potency of Combat Refreshes, which are triggered by using any basic attack. But I'm also slowing down how often you can get combat refreshes from every 10 seconds to every 15 seconds. The main reason for this is so that you have fewer "mandatory" times when you need to use your basic attack. Since I'm trying to promote using both ability bars in combat, I want it to be "un-optimal" to use the basic attack too often, so there's more time to fit in other abilities. So the basic Combat Refresh has been buffed so that it gives back more Power.

But the biggest boost to Combat Refresh actually comes from your armor type. Every piece of armor fits into one of four categories: cloth, leather, metal, and organic. Cloth armor gives you bonus Power when you use a Combat Refresh. Leather gives bonus Health and Power. Metal gives bonus Armor, and Organic gives some of everything. (These are the same as what's live now, except that I swapped cloth and leather.)

In the next update, the potency of these effects are MUCH more dramatic, so your choice of armor type has a lot more meaning. If you wear a full suit of metal armor at level 60, your combat refresh will give +150 Armor. If you wear a full suit of cloth armor, your combat refresh will give +72 Power. If you mix and match armor types, you get results somewhere in the middle. (Those numbers are placeholders to give you an idea of how it works ... I'm sure they'll change dramatically as I play-test.)

 

Making 'High-Power-Cost Skill' a Meaningful Thing

The changes to armor can help answer a tricky design question: how can a skill have high Power costs? The Hammer and Fire Magic skills are the best examples here: they're supposed to deal more damage while costing significantly more Power. But if everybody gets basically the same amount of Power, then these skills are either overpowered or unusable, because you either have enough Power or you don't.

By giving cloth and leather armor significantly more Power-recovery than metal and organic armor, players have a way to adapt to the higher costs of these skills -- without being forced into wearing specific armor types.

In the next update, Power recovery will be a bit over-high to make transitioning easier, so I don't expect people to see this as a pressing issue immediately. But as we tamp down the Power costs in future updates, armor types should become more relevant.

 

... And Related Armor Changes

In order to make these numbers work out in any semblance of balance, I also had to adjust the amount of Max Armor given by different armor types. Metal armor gives more Max Armor than before. Cloth gives less Max Armor than before. Leather is about the same. Organic gives slightly more.

Right now there aren't too many types of armor at each level range, but that's just an alpha content issue -- as we add more armor suits, this choice will become another avenue of customization.

These changes to armor are a big increase to survivability, which is good if I want combat to last longer. But in fact the changes are so large right now that it's hard for me to playtest, because monsters haven't been adjusted to compensate yet. Even though I nerfed a ton of ability reset timers and added new gear-splitting requirements, the armor buffs vastly overshadow those changes, leaving me feeling far more powerful than before. Which wasn't the intention! So there's still lots of adjustments to make this week.

 

Changes to Food

Since my last blog post, I've come to feel that the "food issue" needs to be addressed now rather than later. If food is going to be an important part of every player's game experience, now is a great time to make that happen, since I'm looking for places to give players more Power! But just making food "work better" isn't enough, because players won't know to use it.

Right now the game does a poor job of managing food expectations. At low level you can pretty much get by without food, while at higher level it becomes more and more annoying to go without it ... but players don't necessarily even realize what's wrong, because they've been playing without food for a long time and it doesn't occur to them that it matters now.

Part of the fix is to make food feel more necessary, right from level 1. In the next update, players lose their innate out-of-combat Health and Power regeneration. You'll regain almost nothing unless you have food in your system. And we'll reinforce the importance of food with icons and warning messages, so players know they're "doing it wrong" if they go without food.

That's the "stick", but there needs to be a "carrot" too -- food isn't seen as an attractive tool for a lot of reasons, some of which I need to address (and some of which will work themselves out, I think, when more players are online).

First, I no longer expect you to have both a Food and a Drink active to get optimal benefits. Instead, both food and drink are considered "Meals", and all of them have beefed-up stats. They don't stack with each other, so you can just eat or drink one thing. The stats on food and drink are different, but they're all in the same ballpark.

All meals now restore both Health and Power. They restore very large amounts while out of combat, and smaller but meaningful amounts during combat (right now the best meal gives +20 Power every 5 seconds during combat ... I'm sure that will change as I play with it more, but that gives you an idea).

Snacks are being tweaked to have a more practical -- and understandable -- role. There are two kinds of snacks: instant ones like Bacon, which now just give you instant healing of Health and/or Power, and buffing ones that give very potent regeneration buffs, but only last for a few minutes. So snacks are things you might take into a dungeon with you, optional tools in your arsenal.

I'm also playing with the notion of a "food slot", an inventory slot that holds a stack of food. This lets the game auto-consume food from that slot whenever the previous food wears off. EQ2 has this, and it worked pretty well, but in Gorgon that design would make leveling up Gourmand kind of awkward if you can't just eat any food whenever you want ... so I dunno if I'm sold on the food slot yet.

Oh, and speaking of Gourmand...

 

Changes to Gourmand

The food changes are also the best time to revise the Gourmand skill, which hasn't been very successful so far. Currently, Gourmand gives out all kinds of bonuses, but they're hard to calculate, hard to tell when they apply, and most problematically, they sneak up on you. At level 1 you go, "Ha ha, a Gourmand skill? Whatever." And you may just keep ignoring the skill because it doesn't seem important ... but at high level, the bonuses are a big deal! I need to telegraph that better.

In the next update, Gourmand boosts the duration of Meals. That's it. Every level of Gourmand increases your meal buffs by 30 seconds. So at max level (125), food will last more than twice as long. That's a much easier-to-understand benefit, and now that food is much more necessary, it's easy to see why you want Gourmand levels!

I'm also adding a Gourmand level restriction to food. If a food is more than, say, 15 levels higher than your Gourmand skill, you lack the palette to be able to appreciate the meal, so the game won't let you eat it. There are two reasons for this: first, it makes Gourmand more noticeable and helps reinforce its importance. New players will find foods that have a Gourmand requirement and realize, "Hey, I need to eventually raise my Gourmand skill... how do I do that again?"

And secondly, this makes it a little more interesting (read: challenging) to raise the skill. Previously, a newbie could buy a few high-level foods and instantly reach the 30s in the skill. Now they will need to be a little more picky about finding new things to eat.

This plan might need other adjustments if players end up getting "stuck" leveling it because it gets too hard... we'll see how it goes.

 

Transitioning Existing Gear

Last week I talked about how the combat changes are going to affect gear and how I want to help players switch gear without too much pain. Here's the preliminary plan for how we're going to handle existing gear:

When you log in after the update, any equipment you have that doesn't meet the split-skill requirements described in the last update post will become Legacy, meaning it will keep working for 30 days.

There will be a new NPC who can help you adjust these Legacy items so they stop being Legacy. Basically, you'll be able to turn any non-generic treasure effects on your item into Generic effects, for free, until the skill numbers are even (or close enough).

Two important notes: when calculating whether an item becomes Legacy, the item's Augmentation (if any) will be ignored. And items with an odd number of effects will, of course, have to be imbalanced toward one skill or the other. Those two scenarios won't make existing items become Legacy.

Transmutation will also be adjusted so that if you turn a Generic effect into a skill-specific effect, it won't pick just any random skill. It will always pick one of the two skills on the item -- and if one skill has fewer effects than the other, that one will get picked, so the item will always continue to be "balanced". (Again, any Augmentations will be ignored for this calculation.)

The actual algorithm is much more complicated because there are a lot of special cases. And I haven't even begun implementing this yet, so I'm not sure how intuitive the whole thing will be. But that's the tentative plan right now.

 

Brainstorming Dark Geology

One of the ideas I tossed around in last week’s blog post was the idea of a new support skill – call it Warding Magic – that could make any pet tankier and might be a useful support skill for necromancy and Animal Handling. There have been some great suggestions in this direction on the forums and in game and more ideas here are very welcome!

However, it's tricky to get the right breadth for a skill. A skill needs to be broad enough to support a dozen different abilities and 40+ different treasure effects! And if those abilities are too different in effect, it's too hard to use the skill for any particular purpose. But if the abilities are too narrow, it's too dull (and often too easy to gear for). One useful technique is to think in terms of abilities: what specific abilities would the skill have? If I can brainstorm a dozen abilities for a skill without it ending up being a jack-of-all-trades skill, that's a good sign.

I've been thinking about this on and off, and this may be the place to resurrect 'Dark Geology', a skill that got dropped from the game's design. Thematically, it's basically "earth magic" -- shielding, earthen walls, some rock-throwing, that sort of thing. When I tried it before, it just wasn't deep enough: there wasn't enough for the skill to do. (And then I stole some of its abilities when I was implementing Ice Magic later on.)

But if I pull the Battle Chemistry golem out of BC and give it to this new skill, things might synch up better. Dark Geology has wards and the programmable golem pet, while Battle Chemistry focuses on explosive burst effects and a more complex Mutation system.

This is just an idea I'm floating around in the back of the brain while I work on other things -- I mention it to get your feedback and ideas! Battle Chemistry is too broad right now, so narrowing its scope is something I need to do in one way or another. But again, these changes probably won't happen in the next update, as there's too much else to do.

 

Questions and Suggestions

The forum response to last week’s blog post was great -- so much discussion! I wanted to take the time in this blog post to answer a few questions and suggestions from the forums:

RE: Necromancy Pets -- I really like some of the ideas I saw regarding pet management. Some of the proposed ideas about directly helping your pets build aggro are interesting, and will probably find their way into the game in the form of treasure effects.

I'm playing with pets -- both necromancy and AH pets -- more as I playtest the other changes, and hope to make some quality-of-life improvements as I go. As well as a few bug fixes.

RE: Necromancy “No-Pet” Builds -- For the "non-pet" builds, I want to warn that the skill may feel fairly different after the update. Most importantly, Life Steal now has a 10 second cooldown instead of 5 seconds. Life Steal is still an impressive ability, but it needed toning down, and this is a good opportunity to adjust it.

I don't feel like a "pet-less tank" necromancy build necessarily needs to be viable. If it can fit in, cool, but the pets are really the core of the skill, and that needs to be the main way to use the skill.

RE: Getting Rid of Base Damage Boosts -- I have to admit that while playtesting dual-skill builds, it's pretty annoying trying to find gear that has both base-damage effects on it. But this kind of problem is exactly the sort of thing I intended Augmentation for: "fixing" items that are missing a crucial effect. So I don't think this is a deal-breaking issue. And when there's hundreds of players online, this design could finally create a bit of a market for commonly-needed Augments, too, so that players stop feeling like they have to level up all the Augment skills themselves.

But on the other hand... those base-damage boost effects are boring precisely because they feel mandatory. On the third hand, if they were removed they'd need to be replaced by something else -- I can't just remove them from every slot without making several skills' effects tables too thin. And I don't have any idea about what to replace them with.

I've been considering just lowering their stats so that they become less "mandatory". So at level 60 it would give, say, Base Damage +15% instead of +35%. But would that still be considered a "mandatory" effect? I kinda think it would, but I'd like your opinion there.

I'll be playing more with treasure effects this week, and I'll try a few ideas out. One idea is to have Base Damage only show up on one slot instead of two. That would be easier to replace than removing it from both slots. And that would also give me room to make some items' base-stats better, for instance, giving non-magical swords more inherent Sword Base Damage Boost.

 

Hip-Deep in Changes

As you can see from the all-over-the-place notes, I'm hip-deep in changes to all kinds of systems, and still trying different things out. I hope to get a lot of the more nebulous things figured out this week, then spend next week playtesting more, as well as coding up transition tools and other changes (like tweaking the tutorial to emphasize food more). But that's my optimistic schedule... we'll see how it goes, and I'll update you next week!

 

 

 

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It's almost time for another round of alpha chaos! The next update will focus on ability and treasure revisions. I have some big goals I want to achieve with these changes. They're broad changes that will affect how combat plays at every level, which means they'll cause a chain-reaction of other changes -- monster stats, XP curves, and more will have to be adjusted to compensate. So it's going to take a few more weeks before I'm ready to put the update up.

I know that there are some major imbalances between skills right now, but skill balance isn't my main goal with this update. My immediate goals are:

  • Making two-skill builds a reality by splitting treasure effects on gear between skills.
  • Slowing down the reset time of abilities to increase the number of abilities you use in combat.
  • Easing the problems with power management so you can actually afford to use more abilities in combat.
  • Helping players switch gear to get feedback and metrics on these changes sooner rather than later.

 

Making Two-Skill Builds a Reality

My biggest goal with these changes is to make players think in terms of BOTH of their combat skills. In other words, I don't want people to think of themselves as a sword fighter, but rather a sword + mentalism character. This duality needs to matter all the time, in basically every fight, and especially when choosing equipment.

When it comes to choosing gear, players tend to focus on just one of their skills. They do this for a very practical reason: it's way more powerful. By putting as many treasure effects on as few abilities as possible, you maximize both your damage-per-second and your damage-per-Power-spent. I've tried to push players toward two-skill builds in the past with various small incentives, but there's no incentive that can overcome the HUGE combat benefits of having 30+ treasure effects for only four or five abilities. As long as that's a possibility, players will want to do that – it just makes sense.

So it's time for a bit more direct approach: the effects on all looted and crafted gear will always be evenly split between your two skills. There will be no such thing as "single-skill gear" anymore. (Players can still use Augments to add any effect they want to their gear, which means that at high level you won't actually have a perfectly 50/50 split, but it'll be a lot closer than it is now.)

I've already implemented this change locally and it does definitely push you to think more strategically about your second skill. It makes you look for ways to synergize your skills that you would never have bothered with before. I like the result so far ... but there are some problems. Some of the problems will be pretty easy to fix. For instance, some skills have very different treasure-effect distributions than others. Mentalism has more top-quality head-slot effects than main-hand-slot effects, which ramps up the difficulty in finding an "ideal" mentalism helmet, since now only half the effects on a helmet will be for Mentalism. But those sorts of details are easy enough to address -- some immediately, and some in future iterations as we discover the problems.

 

Support Skills for Two-Skill Builds

Some problems with this new system are easy to fix... and then there are harder problems. An example of a big problem area is tanking with Necromancy. Currently if you want to use Necromancy pets in a group-tanking role, it's not really that viable to split up your gear between two skills. If you want to be a top-notch necromancer tank, you need a LOT of necromancy gear. I did that on purpose. If it didn't take much gear for Necromancy to be a top-tier tank, then the two-skill tank combos like Staff+Shield would be dumb by comparison. So in the current game, being a tanky necro requires about as much gear as being a Staff+Shield tank. (Well, balance problems with individual abilities and treasure effects blur the lines a lot ... but you get the idea of the intent.)

Since I want players to think in terms of TWO skills, the obvious solution is that there needs to be a second skill that can make Necromancy pets more tanky. Typical tanking skills like Shield are not useful for Necromancy tanks. So maybe we need a new skill here, let's call it Warding Magic: a skill that can make any pet more tanky. (Making the skill work on all pets is convenient because Animal Handling tanks have the exact same problem ... I'm just using Necromancy as an example.) Or maybe I can add variant abilities or sub-skills to an existing skill.

I'm not sure what the best answer is there, but it's something I'm thinking about. The solutions for these harder problems will probably have to wait until a future update for a robust fix. I can't make every necessary change all at once or it'll take many months to get the update out the door, and I need feedback and bug-reporting to happen as quickly as possible. So I'll make what changes I can easily make for the next update, and then with your help and feedback we’ll iterate on skills that need more dramatic changes.

 

Longer Cooldowns

Another fundamental fix I need to make is to increase the reset time of abilities. This ties directly into making both of your combat skills important: if you can complete the fight by pressing just a few combat abilities – because they are off of cooldown and available to use over and over – it's always going to make more sense to have all your abilities come from the same skill. By slowing down the reset times, it becomes more likely that you can fit in some abilities from your other skill.

Long story short, I'm slowing down the reset timers on many abilities. 5-second abilities will mostly become 7-second or 8-second abilities; 7-second abilities become 10-second, and so on. This obviously will change combat a LOT, and the changes will cascade everywhere -- monsters, treasure, XP curves, treasure-effects. These will be some weird times, but after a few iterations, the eventual result will be more-fun combat.

This also helps address a boringness problem. It might be more powerful to make just a few abilities really strong, but it's more boring to play ... and that's a warning sign. In MMO design, ideally the "right" way to play shouldn't also be the "boring" way to play.

 

Power Management

Another issue on my radar is Power management. This is an area where I wish I had more time to play the game myself, because I don't feel like I fully understand where the problems are. With the skills I use most when testing, I don't really have major Power management problems at level 60. And when I do data analysis, I see that a slight majority of level 60 players also have no trouble with Power: they finish most combats with a lot of their Power remaining. In a few cases players basically have infinite Power and can fight forever without stopping.

But on the other hand, many players report having a LOT of trouble with Power management. And this is where it gets kind of nebulous for me. Some skills are just harder to manage Power for than others, and some abilities and treasure effects are out of whack ... but in other cases, I can only guess at what's wrong. More players complain of Power problems during the 40-50 level range than the 50-60 range, which might mean that level 40 players aren't finding gear that eases their power management problems ... or it might mean that the monsters are just too tough in that range. If players feel they have to focus entirely on DPS gear, they don't have room to include Power management gear. Or maybe it's something else. It's not really obvious what the problems are just by looking at metrics. So this is something I'd like more input on. Especially if you've come "out the other side", going from being Power-starved to having plenty of Power, I want to know: what happened to change your Power needs?

In the next update I'm planning to be more generous with Power pretty much across the board. That's because the changes mentioned above -- longer cooldowns, more diffusely-spread gear effects -- will require you to use more abilities to finish a fight, which means you need more Power than before. So I'll be boosting the variables I have handy -- Power costs of abilities, power restoration of treasure effects, the potency of consumables, the impact of Combat Refresh. In the very short term, I'd rather you have too much Power than too little Power, because the other changes in the next update will cause enough chaos on their own. But as we keep iterating, Power is a big thing I'm working on and worrying about.

The other Power-related thing I need to do is get players to use food and drink all the time. Power costs are based on the idea that you start each fight with most of your Power, and food and drink are how you recover your resources quickly between fights. But when I do data analysis, I can see that most players don't use food or drink routinely, even if they often run out of Power mid-fight. The reasons for this are numerous and complicated, and this isn't something I'll be able to "fix" with a magic wand, but it's something I want to work on in future iterations.

 

Helping Players Switch Gear

I'm still working on the best way to deal with existing gear. On the one hand, I need to get all existing single-skill equipment out of the game, and the easiest way to do that is to mark gear as Legacy if it has too many effects from a single skill. But that will be kinda stressful on alpha testers, because you'll need to replace all your loot within a month. On the other hand, due to the ability-timer changes, you'll probably want to revise your gear sooner than later anyway. And I need to get the gear change underway ASAP so that I can start getting useful metrics of how the new system works.

So I want to do some sort of event or special activity that can make it easier to replace or alter your existing gear. But the ideas off the top of my head are either too good (you get too much free loot) or are too targeted (a "trade in your gear" event really benefits long-term players with hoards of gear more than it does mid-level players). I'll be thinking about this carefully over the next couple of weeks, and your ideas are welcome too. Hopefully together we'll come up with something to make the transition a bit easier without devolving into "loot piñatas for everyone" ... although that isn't the worst thing to happen in alpha, anyway.

 

Other Stuff in The Next Update

Beyond the above "big picture" combat changes, I'm also trying to fit in as many medium-sized combat changes as I can. Since you'll want new gear anyway, I'd prefer you not to need yet ANOTHER set of new gear in the next couple of updates after this one. But it will depend on the complexity of each change. Some will be easy enough to add to this update, and some will have to wait.

I'll talk about more combat-related changes in the next blog post. I should also mention that the next update has more than just these combat changes in it ... and I'll cover some of that stuff soon too!

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Lots of stuff is starting to come to fruition this week and I'm excited to get the next update into your hands soon!

Dancing Revisions

Playing music and dancing are supposed to be reasonably engaging activities. Not just something to do while you're AFK, but actually something to do... a fun little group activity that has benefits for performers and onlookers alike. To help make that idea real, the next update has a major revision for player dancing: synchronized dance moves.

When three or more players dance together, the game will give them "dance moves" to perform. Some moves are just "perform dance #3" (which just requires you to press the appropriate dance ability), while others are things like "turn around and perform dance #1" or "say 'hey' in nearby chat and perform dance #5". Players have a few seconds to comply, and if three or more dancers manage to follow the directions in time, that boosts the rewards from the performance.

The rewards for dancing without doing the moves are much smaller than before, in order to make room for more rewards for successful synchronization. But it's still true that just dancing while AFK gives some benefits.

I've played with this system on and off for a few weeks, adjusting it to try to make it pretty engaging. I think it will be pretty fun when multiple dancers are in sync. It can also get pretty tiring -- you have to pay constant attention! But that's okay, since again, this isn't supposed to be an all-day thing. My hope is that eventually players come together to dance and play as a sort of "event" (perhaps an impromptu one, perhaps as a guild scheduled thing, whatever). It's designed so that a large number of dancers can get big benefits with a half-hour of performing.

I'm sure synchronized dancing won't be to everybody's taste, but I hope it tickles certain players' fancy. There's a little bit of room to creatively follow the instructions the game gives you -- the "dance moves" have a lot of leeway in them.

Playing music also needs to be revised to fit this idea of being an event, rather than just something you do while AFK. But I have very different ideas for musical instruments, and my experiments here are still very early and need more time. (And they need some new GUI features... so music revisions might be postponed for a while. It will depend on how creatively I can use the existing GUI... so we'll see.)

 

GUI Tweaks

The new GUI is still several months away, I think -- through no fault of Jon (the programmer contracted on it) but just due to logistics of getting everything organized right. In the mean time I wanted to spend a little while on some very-highly-requested features of the old GUI. Some requested features are hard and not worth trying to do in the old GUI, but a few were more doable. So I did those.

First up is a "repeat" button for recipes. Instead of clicking for hours, you'll be able to click the "repeat" checkbox and let it do its thing.

Next up is "GUI scaler" which lets you make the GUI windows larger. (It can be very hard to read the chat text on a mega-resolution monitor.) This isn't an "easy-to-code" feature, but I had actually started working on it long ago, so I basically just finished up the easy parts. Since it's not a complete solution, not everything gets rescaled, but windows like chat, NPC dialogs, and the inventory and recipe windows do. Tooltips and frame widgets (like the health bars) don't. So it's not perfect, but hopefully it makes the game playable for more people.

I also fixed some bugs with the screenshot feature and a few other little things like that.

 

Work Order Adjustments

Thanks to everybody who reported work orders that suck! At first I was trying to fix individual work orders but it soon became obvious that low-level work orders are just systemically crappy now. So I've revised the formula for cash payouts again. This should make most of those really terrible newbie work orders better. Not amazingly great, but worth doing for newbies, as intended.

I've also continued to adjust recipes and item values that make no sense. For instance, dragon and gryphon statuary now has much higher cash value, and the golden statues are now more appreciated by NPCs who love gold.

There's still a lot of work needed to make all the recipes and item values sane, but it's happening one step at a time.

 

There was also a new patch for Unity this week that has some fixes to pathing -- that's the thing that's causing monsters and pets to move poorly sometimes. I'm still testing the patch-fixes to see if they help... but so far I can say that at least things haven't gotten WORSE, so that'll go into the next update too, along with some of my own work-around code that may help as well.

I also have some little surprises in the next update that I won't spoil here.

The next update will be "soon"... definitely by next weekend!

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This blog post is a quick primer to catch players up with some basic info that we've talked about before.

This blog post ONLY covers things we've already talked about. One of the pillars of Project: Gorgon is exploration -- and I definitely don't want to spill the beans about some of the upcoming features yet! But after years of development, some of the stuff we’ve talked about in the past can easily get lost.

Be warned: Aside from the "General Info" and "Business Model" sections, a lot of this is very detail-oriented. If you haven't already played a fair amount, it may not make sense. And you shouldn't need to know any of this to play. This is more for existing or returning players that want to know where things are headed.

Also, I’ve probably missed a few important things here -- I'll update this post over the next week or two with any other info that needs to be added.

So without further ado ...

 

General Info

 

The game is in alpha.

All aspects of the game are subject to change.

This game is not in beta, where we have the design ironed out and we're adding content and fixing problems. It's late alpha, where we are still trying to figure out how some of the key parts of the game fit together.

It's important to understand that, during alpha, plans change -- a lot. We don't have a detailed roadmap; we have to experiment to figure out what works. Some games have detailed roadmaps during alpha because they start from a known quantity: "We're like <game X> but with <w, y, and z> done differently." We don't have that luxury; we often have to change large parts of the game's design when we learn that our original plans suck.

(We're slowly winding down alpha now, so the complete overhauls are getting fewer and farther between, but they still happen.)

 

You will be buffed. You will be nerfed.

There have been many nerfs to the game and there will be many more. All existing play-testers will no doubt be nerfed in the coming months, often many times. There will also, of course, be a great many buffs as well -- but when your favorite sword gets nerfed, sometimes no amount of buffs in other areas will make that seem okay.

Getting nerfed is painful, and if that's the sort of thing that sends you into a rage, this is probably not a good time to be involved with the game.

So why, if alpha is such a pain in the ass, should you bother playing? Because your feedback can have tremendous impact right now. Every overhaul and changed design plan is an opportunity to shape the game; many suggestions have already turned into game features! And with such a small, tight-knit group of alpha players this is also a great time to become a leader in the community.

Plus, as an extra incentive, you can keep all the levels you earn during alpha. Read on …

 

There will not be a full player wipe at launch.

The characters you are building now in alpha will not be completely wiped out at launch. We will be wiping some aspects of your characters, but not everything. In particular, we will be wiping items and money, but we won't be wiping most skill levels.

Why not wipe everything? Because alpha testing is hard. Putting a lot of hours into an alpha game that can and does change all the time is stressful! You deserve some reward for dealing with all the bullshit involved in alpha development.

So why wipe items? After years of alpha, there will be some players with billions in cash and assets, some of which came from bugs that slipped past us. That makes it very hard for a fun player-to-player economy to develop. That’s always a tough challenge, in fact, but wiping items and money is a basic foundational step that will give the economy a fighting chance at launch.

And remember: this is at official launch, which is still a ways away. We aren't even in beta yet!

 

The game will be optimized during beta.

One of the other important pieces of development that won’t happen until beta is optimization. During beta, the game will be made to run better -- and look better. But it’s not worth it to spend a lot of time optimizing during alpha, when entire areas often get redone. For example, there have been something like four complete rewrites of the Serbule area ... and there is probably one more major overhaul still in the cards!

 

The GUI is being rewritten.

When we started developing the game – back in Unity 2.5 -- there wasn't much in the way of GUI support in Unity, so I had to code my own GUI framework from scratch. That's what's in the game now – and it’s ugly, and buggy, and very hard to maintain.

Recent versions of Unity have a completely new way to do GUIs, and while it's far from perfect, it's already better than our old home-brew framework. So we've outsourced a complete rewrite of the GUI using this modern Unity system.

That’s why a bunch of bugs and quirks in the current GUI have remained unfixed -- it's not trivial to fix them in the current framework, and the whole GUI is being replaced anyway. Outsourcing this has let me focus on other parts of the game in the meantime. One down side of outsourcing, though, is that the timeline is a bit more nebulous. I'm not yet sure exactly when the new GUI will be ready to go live.

 

PvP will never be a major aspect of the game.

This is primarily a PvE game. There will be an arena with ranks and points and so on, but there won't be "open world" PvP.

Why not do open-world PvP? Two reasons. First, we don't have the manpower to do it well, and half-assed PvP doesn't attract a lot of long-term players. Second, I don't want PvP to detract from the PvE game.

There are already lots of pretty great PvP games out there. Why add mediocre PvP to this game just to check off a list of "expected features"? We're indies, so we can just tell it like it is: if you need PvP in your MMO, this is not your game.

That said, if we end up attracting thousands of PvPers who really want a (horrifically imbalanced) "PK World" separate from the existing PVE worlds … well, we can talk about it.

 

This is an adult-rated game.

The game has no ESRB rating or similar yet, but we consider it "rated R" for adult situations, language, drug and alcohol use. There will never be dramatic blood, gore, or (particularly sexy) nudity, however.

 

 

Business Model

 

The game is Buy-to-Play

You will buy the game on Steam. We haven't set a final price, but I expect it to be around $40.

 

There is an optional VIP subscription plan.

There will also be an entirely optional monthly subscription plan that provides some convenience features. We haven't decided on a price, but it'll be cheap.

Some convenience features we've already discussed for the VIP plan include extra inventory space and a skill called Autodidactism that lets your character slowly level skills by reading rare books while you're offline.

We have some other VIP features planned that we'll talk about in the future, but being a VIP will not give you access to any special gear or equipment that would make you more powerful in combat.

I really hope to make it worthwhile to buy the VIP plan, but realistically, I suspect a big part of its draw will just be that it's a way to help support future improvements to the game.

 

There will be content updates after we launch.

We are aiming to produce new content updates every two months once the game launches. The game's first story arc will unfold via these content updates during the first year after launch.

A typical update might include new areas, dungeons, monsters, and NPCs, as well as new skills and things to do -- all included in the basic purchase price.

 

 

There will be occasional expansion packs.

It's important for an MMO to have "expansions" because it helps increase visibility -- it's a new thing for reviewers to talk about, a new item to see in Steam, and a way to remind old players that the game exists.

But since we are doing free content updates, I expect that our "expansions" will be pretty rare and mostly used to add entirely new dimensions to the game: like a seafaring system, or deep-world mining.

You will need to buy the expansion to access the expansion's features. I don't anticipate having an expansion for at least a year after the game launches.

 

We will be launching on Steam Early Access soon.

Our Steam launch will occur in two parts: Early Access, and official launch. Early Access is Steam's version of beta -- the game is still unfinished, but Steam users can pay for it early to play it early. Then when the game is ready, we'll leave Early Access and have an official Steam launch.

My original timeline for the Early Access launch was … about 8 months back. I’ve delayed because I want to finish as many fundamental aspects of the game as possible before getting a large influx of new players.

To be very frank: the more big nerfs I can get done before the game is on Steam Early Access, the better! There's a big batch of ability revisions coming up, so Early Access is at least a couple more months away.

And remember: When we go to Steam Early Access, nothing will be wiped -- all characters and accounts will remain just as they are now. You will need a Steam account to play: Kickstarter patrons will be emailed Steam keys early; others will need to buy the game on Steam and synchronize their Gorgon account with their Steam account.

We are also working on doing a "pre-Early-Access sale" to let players have a last chance at getting some of the perks that were available during Kickstarter. This is something we're still working on internally so we don't have more to say about it yet.

… And for players who hate Steam: I understand. But since we're such a small team, Steam makes the most sense to focus on first. After the game has launched, we'll work on providing other ways to purchase and play the game.

 

 

Combat, Skills, and Leveling

 

You will never be able to have more than six active abilities for any given combat skill at a time.

This comes up a lot, so I should explain that this is a set element of the game's design.

 

All combat skills are under balance review; many skills will be nerfed and many will be buffed.

Remember: We’re in alpha. And that means that we aren't even in the "kinda-sorta balanced" phase yet -- we're still in the "let's see if this idea is fun, and if necessary we can tone it down later" phase.

So skill balance will change a LOT in the future. We've been making broad changes, waiting to see the ramifications, then making more changes. I know it's frustrating and tiring for players, but there's really no way around it.

It's been a while since the last batch of changes so you can expect some more broad changes soon.

 

Treasure effects undergo the most changes, which includes both balancing the numbers and rewriting them to be more interesting.

The aim is for each combat skill to have 50-60 different random treasure effects at level 60, and a few dozen more will be mixed in at higher levels.

When treasure effects change, we try to automatically adjust existing items whenever possible. When old items can't be adjusted to fit the new designs, we mark the items as "Legacy", which gives players a month to find a replacement before the item stops working.

 

Level 60 is about the halfway point in the level curve.

Each combat skill can (eventually) be raised to level 100. You can also gain additional levels via synergy bonuses, and high-level equipment will further raise your effective level. So the "end game" monsters will range from level 125 to 150 … maybe higher.

So while level 60 is past the "newbie experience", it's not at all into the "high level" part of the game.

 

Many long-time players are VERY overpowered.

Because players have been stuck at the temporary level 60 cap for a long time now, many of them have gathered sets of VERY powerful gear -- making them effectively level 85 or more. That's temporary, of course, because the level cap will increase and gear will be replaced. But right now those players have outgeared all existing content by a large margin: they are overpowered gods.

Since this is temporary, it’s not a big deal. And being overpowered during alpha is fun! But it does become a problem when players don't realize how overpowered they are. For instance, new players often see these overpowered players and expect to be able to reach similar power levels quickly -- even though getting gear of that caliber can be extremely time-consuming to assemble. And when overpowered players forget that they're overpowered, their feedback can often be less helpful to me. So this is something to try to keep in perspective.

How can you tell if you're overpowered? As a rule of thumb, level 60 solo-monster encounters should take 15-25 seconds, and these encounters will typically involve fighting two monsters at once. So If you can kill multiple level 60 solo monsters in under 15 seconds, yep, you're probably overpowered. Congrats!

 

Synergy Bonuses will be more broadly available.

As mentioned above, synergy bonuses let you raise a skill up to 25 levels beyond its (eventual) cap of 100. But there will be 50+ synergy levels available for each skill, so you will have lots of choices about which skills (crafting and non-crafting) you want to level to get those synergy bonuses.

 

Each combat skill has a non-combat aspect as well.

Combat skills have "partner skills" that give them boosts. For instance, Unarmed fighters have Meditation; Swordsmen have Calligraphy; Hammer users have Buckle Artistry. Most such skills are optional, but will give you an important burst of power if you invest in them.

 

There will be many, many more noncombat skills in the final game.

I can't say exactly how many skills will be in the final game – the design has hundreds more skills, although when I go to implement these designs they tend to clump together -- but it will be lots! And we'll add more skills as well with the bimonthly updates after the game is released.

You aren't intended to learn all the skills yourself -- at least, not in a reasonable time frame -- and at higher levels, specialized sub-skills will further differentiate what each player knows how to craft, thus promoting a vibrant player-trade economy.

 

There will be more ways to enhance gear and abilities.

At higher level there will be many more ways to improve your character's combat abilities, including sentient weapons, "master" versions of abilities, and new kinds of protection. These are relatively easy things to add after we get the basics hammered out a bit more.

 

Food and drink are expected to be used by every player.

It isn't always obvious right now due to balance problems, but the final game will be balanced around the idea that you are regularly using food and drink of appropriate quality level. ("Snacks" are optional and won't be factored into the balance.)

It's really important for the game economy that players consume these items regularly. In fact, their exact purpose is less important than the fact that they're needed! So we may change what they do to make food more important.

 

There will not be instanced dungeons.

The game's server tech simply doesn't support instanced dungeons. An indie MMO engine has to choose its features very carefully, and this is a design decision we made very early in development.

The reason we made that trade-off is that I like shared dungeons better than instanced dungeons anyway. The play experience is different -- for instance, instead of hanging out in town Looking For Group to play through a particular dungeon start to finish, you are more likely to start by heading for the dungeon itself. These are big, BIG dungeons -- many of the existing dungeons will end up being several times larger in the final game – with a more organic flow that makes it easy to join up with other players in a less formal pickup group. The large spread-out design of the dungeon allows you to keep going for as long or as short as you want, and if someone needs to leave early you can find or join other players right within the dungeon.

It definitely has pros and cons (compared to instanced dungeons), but when they're working well, community dungeons are a really great experience.

 

Spawners will be smarter.

We are experimenting with more intelligent spawners that can scale a bit better to the number of players in an area.

 

Getting free levels and loot won't be as trivial.

Tagging along with higher-level players for free loot is not something we've worried about yet -- because alpha – but it won’t be something you can do in the final game.

Similarly, we'll need to limit players' ability to "zerg" an encounter by attacking in huge numbers. Manticore encounters, for instance, are designed for 3-4 players. Right now players can make these encounters extremely trivial by attacking in groups of 10 or more.

Problems like these, as well as addressing how loot is distributed, how "level twinking" works, and whether dungeons need accessibility gates or other restrictions, are questions that we'll tackle in beta, not during alpha.

 

 

Race Details

 

For the standard races, you can level up your racial traits.

The three existing playable races – humans, elves, and Rakshasa -- have very minor racial traits to start, but you will be able to "level up" your traits, adding some additional benefits and penalties. This will be entirely optional.

For example, elves are a very clean race. All elves get a small XP bonus when they stay clean and a small XP penalty when they get dirty. If you level up your elven racial traits, those benefits and penalties will become a bit more pronounced -- and you will even start to see "stink lines" coming off of other players when they're especially filthy. (Other benefits and penalties will be unlocked as well; this is just one example.)

 

There will be three more races.

The additional races are orcs, fairies, and dwarves. Unlike the existing playable races, these races are intended for more experienced players, not complete newbies. They will need to be unlocked via quests – although the quests are around level 30, so you only need to learn the basics of the game to unlock these races.

The advanced races also have more pronounced racial features, and their racial features are already “leveled up” as soon as you start playing. For instance, fairies have the racial attribute of flight -- which is pretty great! -- but there are some pretty big downsides as well. (Things we can’t reveal yet!) You can't opt out of the stranger racial traits; being a fairy is a package deal.

 

 

Skill-Specific Details

 

The Battle Chemistry skill is likely to change a lot.

All the other combat skills can be leveled to 60 now, but not Battle Chemistry. That's because it's likely to change a lot -- maybe even split into two different skills. The problem is that it's too diverse: it does a lot of different things, but none of them very deeply.The programmable golem has a lot of potential that I want to bring out, the mutagens are interesting and could be really fun with a bit more sophistication, and this skill was originally supposed to have the "best area-effect attacks in the game", too. But it can't do all of that stuff at once, and trying to do all of it half-assedly results in a clunky skill with identity issues.

 

Animal Husbandry is in the works.

You will be able to breed and raise new pets and mounts, and sell them to others if you wish. Some of the in-game pet stats that are currently under-utilized (such as Enthusiasm and Happiness) will be involved in animal husbandry. There will be many other kinds of pets to tame and breed, as well.

Animal Husbandry is quite time-consuming -- it can take a week of real time for a baby animal to gestate -- so this is probably something you'd do as a side-activity, not as your main "profession".

 

There will be "specialty" versions of many combat skills.

As an example, Sword will (tentatively) have Greatsword and Rapier specialties. You can raise both specialties if you like, but you can only use one at a time.

These specialty skills provide new abilities while still letting you use a portion of the main skills' abilities. For instance, the Greatsword skill provides you with some new heavy-hitter attacks, as well as letting you use traditional Sword abilities like Finishing Blow and Decapitate. The Rapier skill has new utility abilities, but you can also use classic Sword abilities like Parry and Debilitating Blow.

Specialty variants like this will give us some more ways to specialize. Off-handed daggers, axes instead of hammers, crossbows instead of bows ...

 

 

Everything Else

 

There will eventually be a "breath bar" when underwater.

The current system (using Metabolism) is just a quick solution while the new GUI is being made.

 

There will be mounts.

Horses first, and others over time. There are several horse-related skills involved in caring for your mount and maximizing its benefits.

 

Players' current ability to get an insanely high run-speed will be nerfed.

But to avoid inconveniencing people too much, we're delaying most of those nerfs until mounts are ready to go.

 

Item storage will be more convenient

As an example, you'll be able to access all the storage-boxes in a city from one place. These sorts of convenience features are postponed until the new GUI is finished.

 

There will be more inventory pack space.

... and more convenient ways to organize your items into bags.

 

There will be lots of ways to travel.

Beyond just riding a horse, turning into a bird, etc., there will be several other modes of transportation.

 

There will be housing.

Housing will be pretty basic at first, but after the game has launched we'll make it nicer and more elaborate in the bimonthly updates. Most housing will be instanced, meaning that when you enter the door to your house you're transported into a private little house interior that's exclusively for you.

(If you're wondering how we can have instanced housing but not instanced dungeons, this is a special case. The server can handle instances where no combat is allowed. So you won't be able to fight monsters inside your house! But you'll be able to craft and shop and have visitors and much more.)

Guild halls will have a shared-world public area (where guilds can set up vendors, for instance), as well as a private backroom area for guild members only.

 

A bunch of the game's data is available to third-party website developers.

Like most MMOs, it is against our terms of service to data-mine the game client, because that's considered reverse-engineering it. But that data can be really helpful in creating third-party support websites that really enhance a game. Most games just turn a blind eye to data-miners... instead, I wanted to make their job easier without making them break our TOS. So most of the game-client data is available as JSON files, including item descriptions, ability info, leveling curves, recipes, and treasure effects. These JSON files are auto-generated with each update of the game, so they are always up to date. The game's icons are also uploaded to our CDN periodically, so fan sites can reference them directly. The documentation on all this is a bit lacking (cough... very lacking...) but I'll improve that soon with a how-to document.

An example of a cool fan-made site is Gorgon Explorer.

 

There will be a special "chat API"

This API will let programmers connect the game's chat with other chat services. I envision the main use being connecting guild chatrooms to other chat services such as IRC. But it can also provide lots of other benefits.

Guildmasters will be able to connect outside chat services to their guild chat. We'll see how things develop from there. (For instance, since players can create custom chat rooms, we might let players attach chat services to those custom chat rooms.)

I mention this feature for completeness because we've talked about it before, but it's been delayed until the beta, so it won't happen for a while.

 

There will be bards. And vampires. And mail birds. Weather Witches. Two more animal curse forms before the game launches...

And a lot of other stuff! But this is about 2500 words too long as it is, so we'll just stop here. If you have questions or comments, please post them in the forum here.

 

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Well, this week didn't go to plan. We rolled out the version of the game that uses Unity 5.4, and it's pretty buggy. That part was expected. But usually new Unity versions give us framerate drops, lighting problems, that sort of thing -- stuff that can be ignored for a while. Unfortunately 5.4 is very crashy, and for some players it crashes quite a lot. But frustratingly, not everyone crashes, and not in the same ways or at the same times.

So several days were spent looking at crash dumps players sent me, trying to figure out what's going on. There are lots of possibilities. It looks like there's a graphics-card memory leak. It also looks like the tessellation crash-bug from 5.3 is much more pronounced in 5.4 -- probably why they're going to fix it in 5.4 first. It also looks like they aren't managing textures the same way they did in 5.3, and there might be a bug there. But in fact, it could actually be all three of those things and more, all at once.

Since I can't nail down the cause, I have no reliable work-arounds. I considered putting up a Hail-Mary update with a bunch of code tweaks that MIGHT help some people... but I decided that was probably just wasting everybody's time. Instead, I'm going to let the Unity team do their jobs and give us a patch. If it takes too long, we might have to roll back to 5.3, but we can afford to wait a week or so to see if the patch resolves most of the issues. (Rolling back will cost a lot of development time, so that's a last resort.)

In the mean time I updated the server with a new tool to help stuck players. If the game keeps crashing on you at the same spot whenever you log into a character, there's a new command you can use from one of your other characters that'll teleport your stuck character to somewhere safe. The crashes are definitely annoying, but this way at least you can keep playing.

 

The Big "Things To Know Blog Post"

In the last set of patch notes, I mentioned that I would write up a blog post this week that collects all the stuff that we've explained in forums and patch notes in the past. Game details like how leveling will work, what big features are on the horizon, the state of player wipes at launch, and a lot more. You probably already know a lot of this info... but probably not all of it. It hasn't been organized into one place in a long time.

And I did indeed write that blog post! ... and it's a book. It's insanely long. If I want players to actually read the post, it has to be shorter. So Sandra and I are working on condensing it. Ideally it would be under 2500 words, but realistically, we're probably looking at a 4000 word post. Still ridiculously long, but at least theoretically readable. (For comparison, this current blog post is about 650 words.) I expect we'll post that this week.

 

Next Update Still In Development

Although much of the week was spent on the crash bugs, I also made progress on the next update. The new crafting skill is ready to go and I'm working on the new elements in South Serbule that will support that skill. We're also making some adjustments to pets in the next update, and with any luck I'll be able to squeeze in some prototype features for player-music, too. When will this update arrive? I'm not sure. I would say it's probably two weeks out, but if Unity releases a patch this week as expected, I'll just put up whatever we have ready to go by the weekend. So we'll see how it goes.

I'll keep you updated as we progress. If you have time to drop in to play today (Sunday), we're running a small event where work-orders give you extra money, so it's a good time to earn a few virtual bucks. Thanks for playing!

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Since my development computer is spending the next 6 hours auto-upgrading the game to the new Unity 5.4, I figured I'd give you some info on where we're at with a couple of issues.

 

Game Crashes: We know some players are still crashing periodically -- the crash rate seems to be dependent on your graphics driver and where in the game-world you are. It's a known Unity bug. The bad news is that it's extremely difficult for me to "work around" this issue, and I've probably already done all that's really feasible in that vein. The good news is that it's an acknowledged Unity bug, and the most recent Unity notes say that a fix is expected to be released in a patch "soon" -- which probably means 1-2 weeks.

 

Unity 5.4: In the mean time, we are switching from Unity 5.3.X to Unity 5.4. The reason? It sounds like the fix to that crash is going to be applied to 5.4 first, so we're getting ready to patch that bug out of existence as soon as possible.

We've been sticking with the 5.3.X versions of Unity for the past few months because they're supposed to be more stable. But 5.4 is now officially released, and it has some noticeable performance benefits which I'm excited about. But if you've been following the game's development for a while you'll know that any time we switch major versions of Unity, things get pretty weird for an update or two. So expect surprises! (Also, hopefully, a bit better framerate and lower memory usage.)

We'll be spending the weekend banging on 5.4 to smooth out any obvious issues. If all goes to plan we'll have a game update for you on Monday or Tuesday.

 

Music-Performance System: Last week's game update finally activated the AFK logout timer, so that if you are AFK for 20 minutes you are disconnected. (This was a long time in coming, as we first needed to make sure "AFK-ness" was being calculated fairly and reliably on different OSes.) As a side-effect of this, players can no longer play music for hours and hours while AFK in order to rack up huge performance buffs -- and that's a good thing. For more insight into the thinking here, I'll point you to srand's recent forum post.

We have big plans for the music system as a fun way to relax and unwind. It's supposed to be much more interesting than just going AFK and getting a buff! And you can expect to see some new ideas being tried out soon. (Not in the update a few days from now -- that will just be bug-fixes. But during August, definitely.)

There are a lot of interesting game mechanics involving music and dancing, and I'm excited to prototype them and see what's fun. As always during alpha, don't expect the first version to be very good -- we're not building to a blueprint here, we're exploring new ideas! And new ideas usually suck at first. It takes time to iterate and permute the possibilities. But with your patience and feedback I'm sure we'll end up in a fun place.

 

More to do in South Serbule: South Serbule will start to become more interesting during August. We'll be introducing new points of interest and things to do, including a new crafting skill aimed at lower-level players. But more on that skill later. (Maybe next week, if I can get into the habit of writing updates!)

(There are lots of other pieces of content in the works, too, including several which will likely come online in late August... but it's hard to tell the schedule yet, so I don't want to hype things up prematurely.)

 

Website Changes: we're working on the final details of switching to a new forum, one that will hopefully be our "final home" for the game for many years to come. The current forum is a bit limited and it's actually quite difficult to "mod" it with new features, so this will be a big improvement.

We're also making lots of other changes "under the hood" of the website. For instance, we're isolating it from the patcher. Right now, if the website goes offline for any reason, players can't log into the game, because the patcher checks for files on the website. The new patcher will soon be pulling data from an entirely different system, which will improve our uptime.

Speaking of which -- if you haven't upgraded to the newest patcher (which was released a month ago, and was mentioned on the login screen), please do so at your convenience. You can find it on the "Play Now" page of this website. It will automagically detect the upcoming changes and give you a seamless play experience.

I realize patcher changes are pretty dull, but we also have some much more interesting web-related features in the works... if I hurry I might be able to show one of them to you on the blog next week. For now, I hope you're having fun in the game, and remember to send in bug reports!